Posts

Showing posts from 2017

How do I fix myself with mindfulness

This appears to be a common pattern. We do our mindfulness course expecting to be transformed, we feel a bit better on the course, a week after the course we find that nothing has changed. There's also the case of people who have been doing meditation for ages and yet they still feel as depressed and angry as they did when they started.

So then, what is going on?

The mind is a tricky beast. It is used to taking action and seeing immediate results. Mindfulness is more subtle than this. It is about seeing the relationship between body, feelings, mind and thoughts and how they come and go. There is no explicit result to be found, just an on going relationship with the thing that is us. However, the longer we observe ourselves the more likely we are to see wisdom arising. That is to say, we begin to see what is beneficial and what is harmful to us. We begin to take responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness - we are no longer simply victims of circumstance. We know what we nee…

Seven factors of awakening

Image
A mental factor is psycho physical state that we can recognise - e.g anger, anxiety, doubt, bliss. There are wholesome ones and unwholesome ones. We meditate to cultivate the wholesome ones. After a while we arrive at the seven factors of awakening - these are the factors that underpin a truly wholesome mind. They can appear in any order at any time, but there is a causal sequence that we can follow.

- Mindfulness - we establish bare attention and clear comprehension of our experience. If you have mindfulness established it is difficult to behave badly.
- Investigation - we use mindfulness to see how things change in the mind. We see emptiness, thinking, joy and many other things.
- Energy - with mindfulness and investigation, the unwholesome states of mind of reduced. This allows energy to manifest. This feeds into further investigation.
- Joy, rapture - after bouncing around mindfulness, investigation and energy for a while there is an intensification of physical pleasantness. Even…

Exploring Beethoven string quartet no.7 Opus 59 no.1

Image
I like listening to Beethoven's string quartets - it took me a while to appreciate them but I think I'm getting there now. Here's the one they call number 7.

First movement - the days of afternoon tea are behind us. It starts off quite nicely - there is a strong promenading feeling of enjoyment, a jolly man walking down an Edwardian street. We are soon lost in moments of introspection that take us on a little voyage into somewhere more thoughtful. These moments of inward reflection continue but they are slowly injected with a sense of anxiety - the pleasant beginning is being eroded. Our afternoon stroll gradually transforms into a psychological, paranoid, edgy episode. We are left realising that life is not a basket of flowers. Bad things happen to good people. Beethoven has broken down the good mood.

Second movement - the sense of disquiet continues as we are plagued by sharp, stabbing notes and a feeling of not being quite right. Beethoven takes us to the brink of a gl…

Do you find yourself having an opinion about things you know nothing about?

Image
Well, this is quite an interesting phenomena that I see quite a lot on the news. The journalist finds a hapless member of the public and asks them about Brexit, or political policies or world events and the poor hapless person responds with an opinion that is clearly just a rehash of something they've heard on the news already. Then, I find myself having an opinion that is equally without any first hand knowledge of the situation and ask myself where did that come from? I am talking out of my arse.

Then it becomes clear that no-one knows what they are talking about, especially politicians, and all we have are these opinions that are founded on media junk that we've been fed over the last few months. Then you see people getting all bent out of shape because of these opinions and it becomes clear that something is not really right. It's this flow of information that is shaping the world we live in, not the actual world we live in.

Does anyone know what they are doing? I thi…

Moorland stream

Image
A relatively empty contemplation

Exploring the six sense bases

I'm going to be jumping about a bit with this blog as I randomly accumulate written material for various projects. However, stick with it and you'll be transformed in no time. I've been mastering Buddhist techniques for a while so that's what you're going to get this time.

Deep down in the fourth foundation of mindfulness, we find the six sense bases. Here we are asked to contemplate the five physical senses and the mind as the sixth sense. The contemplation goes something like this:

- We get very still and calm
- We place our attention on one of the six senses - I like sound best, or sight if I am doing staring meditation
- We observe contact with an object, e.g. sound - It all happens very fast and at the same time, but we observe contact, consciousness, feeling, perception, initial thoughts and then mental proliferation (thoughts on thoughts). Now this is a continuous process so stick with it.
- We also are asked to observe fetters that arise with sense contact.…

Exploring Beethoven's string quartet no 1 opus 18

I've had a lot of free time over the years - quite a lot where all I can do was listen to music. Now, if you listen to a lot of music you begin to realise that, by in large, there's not a lot going on in modern music that will keep you interested for long. So you begin to explore all kinds of music and you find that Beethoven has produced some particularly interesting works of art. If you take the time to combine Beethoven with meditation, you then begin to realise that his music is a profound expression of mood and/or mental states the likes of which you never thought possible - it's like he has written his mind into music.

Anyway, let's start at the beginning with his first string quartet. I know very little about Beethoven or his life or why he wrote the music he wrote - I just listen to the music and see what comes up. I also dislike sleeve notes that get too technical. So what you're getting here is just raw interpretation of the music through my rather stubby…

Scribble

Image
I am enjoying google keep at the moment - try to guess my state of mind from this


The zen path

Image
Instead of the gradual path, you could have a crack at the zen path. It's a bit more straightforward:

1. Get your sitting posture stable - it's import to get the right posture
2. Just sit
3. Keep sitting

At a certain point, something will trigger a moment of perfect clarity in the mind. You may be out shopping, you may be at the zoo, you may see a leaf flutter out of the corner of your eye - it could be anything.

It just happens by itself

The gradual path

I thought I'd jot down some of things I've encountered on the gradual path of mind training. This is probably why most people don't bother...

Practice daily
Observe the body (repeat)
Observe the senses (repeat)
Practice eating
Practice listening
Observe sounds
Notice pain
Notice pleasure
Observe moods
Observe thoughts
Bare attention
Clear comprehension
Observe the breath
Notice tension
Notice relaxation
The relaxation moment
The in breath
The out breath
The resting moment
Notice the whole body
Relax the whole body
Allow pleasure
Notice wanting
Notice anger
Notice anxiety
Notice doubt
Notice weariness
Thoughts are not you
Behind thinking
The observing mind
Observe patterns
Observe reactivity
Accepting you don't know
Going deeper
Wandering mind
Mental proliferation
Calming the body
Calming the mind
Notice (5 elements)
Notice (32 body parts)
Notice initial attention
Notice sustained attention
Notice pleasure
Notice bliss
Notice unified mind
Notice hatred
Notice love
Notic…

You are not your thoughts

That's it really. Have a thought, let it go. Where do they come from? Well, that's where it gets interesting. We are all in this soup. Who is in your bowl?

Anyway, take a step back and breathe. Then you will know what to do.

Focus on the space

Image
Notice the body and forms
Then notice the space

Don't get too excited about it. Just know that it is there.

Still meditating

Calm
Breathe in,
Pause,
Breathe out,
Rest in the gap,

....

Breathe in,
Pause,
Breathe out,
Relax,
Rest in the gap,

Slowly, slowly, slowly
I yield

A month of meditation

Here's what I'm going to be doing over the next month in the spirit of meditation training. Generally I'll be following this typical meditation sequence every day:

- Scan through the body, relaxing muscles, breathing into tension
- Get the body relaxed and establish awareness of the whole body
- Breathe into the whole body - this is very refreshing
- Join the body, mind and breath together - this means I feel the breath and body in my mind - I'm not thinking about anything else
- Once I've reached this point I feel like I've cleaned out the rubbish and I can relax into the next bit
- If I'm still a bit jazzed, I'll do four elements or body parts for a few cycles
- Next I'll switch to mindfulness of breathing - watching the breath come in and go out again. Just a simple practice
- I'll maybe count my breaths just to ensure I'm not deluding myself  - 1 to 10 then back down again
- I'll do this until it is time to do something else

Also dur…

When meditation becomes training and a discipline

If you've been following what I've been doing this year, you'll know that I've restarted meditation practice from scratch and am working through all the various techiques that have brought some relief from the difficult thing that is me. So far I've been doing practices related to the body.

So, now we come to the point in our lives where we ask ourselves - is meditation just something I do to relax or is it something that I want to take seriously?

Ask yourself that question. Then ask yourself: does your life feel shit?

If it does then your mind is in the wrong place and you can benefit from meditation practice (or you can spend a few years doing therapy). Ultimately, you will find that the change only happens from within yourself and learning to meditate will show you how.

Anyway, let's say you've been doing some meditation for the last month or so. If I was a meditation teacher I'd now be telling you to keep sitting every day no matter what - meditatio…

Four elements meditation

In case you are wondering, I'm going through a progressive set of meditation instructions in a number of different posts that take you to the very essence of your own mind and being. I'm doing the exercises as I go along so it's kind of in real time. We've started with some body meditation and some ideas about mindfulness.

Now we move forward to start investigating the interface between mind, body and concepts (especially in relation to compactness which I will explain later). The launch pad for this type of  investigation is the four elements - earth, wind, fire and water - but let's not get hung about these labels. This meditation is derived from Buddhist meditation practices that were devised thousands of years ago when they hadn't discovered electricity and they hadn't figured out what a quark was - but they did have fire, earth, water and wind. In essence, this practice is nothing to with these elements - it's just a way of looking at experience th…

Investigate the mind and know you are doing it

Image
The mind has lots of faculties and one of the most interesting of these is its ability to investigate phenomena and see what is going on. People who are new to meditation have something called beginners mind which is a natural curiosity driven by the novelty of what they are doing. Old lags like me, tend to need a bit of effort to regain interest in something they've seen a thousand times before but once we get going the pleasure of seeing stuff soon lights things up.
Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to say is: investigation is a key mental faculty in meditation. You don't have to believe me, I'm just planting a seed in your mind for later on so that when you realise you are investigating phenomena you'll say something like: 'sheesh kebab, this is investigation and that blogger dude was right - it really is a thing'.
Then you might say, "I'm investigating and I know I'm investigating. This is what knowing is…

The pleasure of breathing in and out

Who would have thought?

You know how it goes:

- notice the energy rush as you breathe in - nice isn't it
- notice the release as you breathe out - lovely

Now rinse and repeat. Like a massage.

Yes, I'm mindful

Are you mindful?

If not, use the body to establish some sort of awareness.

Keep at it until stuff comes and goes. Now, here's where it gets useful. We train ourselves to notice that nothing (absolutely nothing) lasts - then we rest in that place behind the coming and going of experience. No problems in that space. Find this experience.

Once you've got this nailed down tight (maintain it for 10 minutes or so), we are ready to get molecular on our minds.and experiences. Then we can start to express the truth through the twinkle in our eyes and the complete lack of regard for all the nonsense that people call life.

We know it's already happened. Calm down already. Find the space.

Navigating the mind through meditation

Meditation is a skill that is learned over time but it's a skill where training and doing happen at the same time - i.e. we are learning on the job. As we allow the hindrances (distracting mind states) to drop away, we find ourselves meditating but unable to direct our meditation - we rely on intuition and short, felt experiences to direct us (occassionally guided by words). One such felt experience is the idea that we are resting inside a bubble beneath the surface of activity. We sit in our bubble and observe mental experience coming and going. We are at rest, simply being aware of what is going on. Interestingly, if we try to solidify our bubble by directing thought at it (look at me in the bubble), then it pops. It's a case of being in the bubble and not getting involved. This is the training.

One interesting thing to do once we are in this still, observing state is to notice what takes us away from this state. Perhaps it is a thought, a sensory experience, part …

Three breaths mind experiment

You might like to try this short but illuminating experiment. Resolve in your mind that will observe your breathing for 10 breaths. Pick an area of your body where you will be able to observe your breath; the belly is a good place. Close your eyes and start observing. Breathe in, breathe out, count one. Now see how far you get before your mind wanders off. Did you get past three?

Invariably we seem to lose our focus after one, two or three breaths. This is the momentum of our everyday mind railroading the processes of our mind and body. It is fired up and churning through the all the things it needs to churn through. We might think this is who we are, this compulsive thinking engine, but this is just one state of mind that we seem to operate under as a default - there are other states of mind.

This is the beginning point for meditation. We try to open a window behind the everyday mind and alter our default state of mind to something less demanding. We try to unlock our habitual proces…

Change your mind

Let's face it, we all want to control our minds in some form or another. The good news is: you can! The bad news is: it takes a lot of preliminary work.

It's a tricky business but here's a few ideas to get you started.

The first thing you need to do is establish that the thoughts in your mind are not who you are - they are product of various circumstances, they are a process of your mind. The modern way of seeing this clearly is mindfulness. You can do it now - observe your internal dialog, watch it change and repeat itself, watch it wander off, etc. You may have noticed that there were your thoughts (which may or may not have been useful) and there was the wider observation of those thoughts. Perhaps you noticed that this observer was not affected by the thoughts, that it was behind experience, that it has been there all your life. Let's not get into the existential nature of this aspect of your life - just acknowledge that you have one.

To summarise then, establish t…

Bare attention and clear comprehension

Image
Here are two key cconcepts that you might like to immerse yourself in once you've been meditating for a while. It's a way of breaking down mindfulness a little bit and is onward leading.

Firstly, we might ask ourselves: what is mindfulness?

There are lots of mindfulness experts out there nowadays who could help with this but generally speaking it is: paying attention to something without effort. You could call this bare attention or choiceless awareness or open awareness. We hear a sound, a sound is heard - it takes no effort. It arises and passes away.

Bare attention is a skill that requires practice. The more we practice, the easier it becomes to stay with bare attention. If we do lots of body scans the mind will relax and this will happen naturally: we fall into a state of: in one ear and out of the other.

So, let's say we have been sitting in a state of bare attention for 10 minutes or so - it's pretty cool, relaxing, and we're grooving along quite nicely in …

Ground yourself

I'm currently going through lots of somatic exercises to establish a few concepts in the mind that will prove useful later on (namely: mindfulness, dispassion, calm, tranquility, investigation, impermanence, self awareness and joy). These seeds will grow slowly until they flesh out your awareness of your enitre human experience - this is quite helpful in becoming a delightful person (well, in your own mind anyway).

This technique is called grounding and useful bridge between your actual mind and the ideas the mind creates - keep an eye out for that.

Grounding is a very good way of diverting attention out of your self centered thoughts into a more neutral place. This gives us a breathing space from the seemingly endless nonsense that goes through our everyday mind - usually a combination of me, me, me thinking and how to avoid unpleasantness.

Anyway, grounding is a fairly easy concept to grasp. We place our attention in our feet and we imagine ourselves breathing down into the fe…

Your body holds your mind

Image
Sometimes it's nice to imagine different ways of being in the body and allowing grounding to happen naturally.

- Imagine the body holding the mind. It's a container and the mind is the contents bubbling around inside.
- They interact with each other, one effecting the other.
- Hot mind, hot body. Calm body, calm mind.

Then it's possible to go one step further - imagine the body container emptying; an empty body containing space. Then it's nice to try and hold it there.

Mindfulness of the body parts

By now I am practicing with the body every day. I like a bit of variety to keep my interest from waning. Here is a run through of what I do with the body parts - doing this meditation creates a kind of dispassion towards your body and other peoples bodies. This helps us have a more positive view towards who we are and what we need to do to keep ourselves fit and healthy. 

- Remind myself that mindfulness is a relaxed, attentive awareness.

- Start with awareness of the body. Noticing my body sitting and breathing.

- Do an accelerated full body relaxation

- Obviously, being preoccupied, my mind wanders off during the relaxation part. I bring it back gently when it wanders off. Bringing it back is exercising my ability to bring it back, so it's all good. I enjoy the effort of getting lost and coming back.

- Establish a sense of clarity somewhere in my body mind complex. Anything will do, as long as it's not related to contracted thinking.

- Now, start with mindfulness of the bod…

The four foundations of mindfulness

It's always nice to attempt to explain something, or kind of reimagine it so we think we understand it, so I'm going to take a sideways leap away from body mindfulness to look at the four foundations of mindfulness in brief - we're not going to address nitty gritty, just the broad details. This will help inform us (mainly me) on my journey through various stages of ectasy and despair on to somewhere a bit more satisying. The satipatthana suti is like the source code of meditation. It is a remarkable framework to refer back to and an astonishing achievement.

(Maps and guides are useful things and the satipatthana sutta is an amazingly compact guide to mindfulness practice. It's also fairly impenetrable to the uninitiated which is a good thing because it takes effort and patience to understand what is going on - it took me years.)

Enough preamble, on with the post.

There are four foundations of mindfulness: the body, vedana (the feeling of pleasant/unpleasant), the stat…

Thoughts have a direct effect on the body - try it now

The mind and body are bound together like flour and butter in a bechemel sauce. If you don't believe it then read on.

Here's a quick story you might like to read:

It's a Sunday morning and you're scheduled to visit your parents who live a 30 minute drive away down a major road. They wanted you to be there for 12 at the latest but there was problem getting the kids ready and it's already 11.50. Anyway, getting the children into the car is like trying to catch a bar of soap in the bath, and you finally set off at 12. Although it doesn't matter that you're late there's a sense that you need to get on with it so you drive faster than you normally would. You get on the main road and put your foot down. Everyone in the car senses the tension but you're locked in to the urge to get moving. You pass under a bridge and as you look in the rear view mirror you see a police car parked above with a man holding a speed gun. You check your speed but it's too la…

Body scan meditation

Image
Mindfulness of the body is the first of the four foundations of mindfulness. It is an excellent way to learn how to meditate as it cultivates right mindfulness and can cultivate states of concentration.

A while back I did my own body scan meditation. I heartily recommend it - it is brilliant, an outstanding effort.



Open a window into mindfulness through the body. Once you get into this, the rest of the path falls into place.

A nice exercise in whole body awareness

Image
It all starts with the body. Your body is your greatest asset.

Take a seat somewhere. Go inside your body and take a relaxing breath. Become aware of your body. Start at the feet and then expand from there. Sense your awareness of the body growing - become aware of the feet and legs; then feet, legs and torso; then feet, legs, torso, arms and hands. Have a sense of energy growing through the body.

Finally, as you breathe, hold your entire body in awareness - feet, legs, torso, arms, hands and head. Feel into a sense of openness and clarity. Notice any blockages in the flow of openness. Then enjoy three or more clear breaths. Nothing outside the present moment, you and your body.

During the day: try it standing up, or in everyday situations. Notice what undermines your attempts to do the practice.

Quick fix: attempt one full body breath before you begin your next task. Do it as often as you can.

Feel good techniques twitter bot

I've been interested in words and language for a long time now, and specifically how it shapes our minds and behaviour. When we are exposed to certain language patterns, or words, we can shift our mood and the way we think. (There is one story that suggests a single word could unravel your mind in an instant - so beware.) Here's a an interesting ted talk about it.

Anyway, enough chitter chatter. I've been creating various apps (inbetween bouts of illness and doing too much) that attempt to cultivate positive mind states and I've been playing with a twitter bot recently to do a similar sort of thing. You can see some of its tweets mixed in with some of mine on @lightmanmumu - I've trained it on this blog and have taught it to build random positive statements. So, theoretically, it is tweeting the essence of feel good techniques.

For those of you interested, it runs on a raspberry pi and has been coded in python.


The fantastical feel good loop

We are all the same really, it's just the implementation that is different. Forget your individual implementation for a moment, and recognise that we all have a brain and central nervous system that is ticking away in the background - I'm pretty sure it all looks the same underneath the bonnet. Now, in the same way, the underlying nature of the mind is pretty similar - that is to say that it is luminous and a glorious thing.

What's this got to do with the title? Well, there are techniques that allow you to uncover this brilliantly lumnious mind of ours - I've explored vipassana style meditation techniques in particular - but there's a kind of dance that goes on. We put some effort in (of the right kind), we expose a particular facet of the mind, we relax our effort, the specifics of our life kick in and we drift back into a place that is not particularly glorious.

To summarise: we make effort -> we have a peak experience -> we return to base camp -> we sta…

After you've transcended yourself

In my last post, I suggested that somewhere there is a state of mind that transcends happiness or sadness and you can be quite content with the sparkles of existence, enjoying the flowers or the weeds at the side of a road or whatever else lights up the mind. You might think, this is it, I'm finished, but you are not done yet. The world will draw you back and, if you are not vigilant, the old mental patterns will creep in and before you know it you'll be eating cake and drinking strong coffee while checking your phone every ten minutes for the latest message. However, it's not as bothersome as before because you have the other perspective to refer back to, but it still feels like 'you' are back.

So then, you have climbed the mental Everest and now you're back where you started, just with a little sun tan from all the bright lights beaming out of your inner eye. What next? Well, dust yourself off and do it all again. It's a training. Keep training and new th…