Showing posts from January, 2017

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

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

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

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

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…