Mindfulness and meditation can help reconnect us to these core skills as we recognise our self-suffering is caused by one of the biggest influences taking us away from the present moment - our habit to judge life as not being quite right in some way - not what we want or expect, not good enough. The pair go on to say “….. performing and transforming, respecting the core but also future-proofing themselves.” Respecting the core skills through awareness - loving kindness, gratitude and honesty will bring resilience, future-proofing whilst connecting us to our natural intuition which is the only guide we need when having one eye on the future. A big thank you to the authors for sharing their wisdom as well as @simonmundie for the great podcast with @willgreenwood which is where I learned of this amazing book!
Back in August of this year I attended a 5 day silent retreat run by the wonderful couple behind Mindfulness CIC - Suryacitta (aka The Happy Buddha) and Gaynor - wife, chief organiser and creator of delicious meals. It was an opportunity to go even deeper into the silence for an extended period within a community setting. We connected at a level which required no language as we shared a love and curiosity of the present moment. Open to all which would arise and fall in that held-space, discoveries were made, lessons were learned, tears were shed - whether for what needed to be released or simply for the intensity of gratitude in a given moment didn't matter - the beauty of being comfortable with the unknown - it just is what it is! The peace and stillness I was left with at the end of the week has settled within me - anchoring the resilience which grows with the ever-increasing periods of observing with an open heart and noticing with neutrality. If we could all slow down, be quiet awhile and connect in this way there really would be world peace! 'They say I'm a dreamer .....' well now I've experienced I'm not the only one!
Below is a poem I wrote about the silence - The Stillness of Silence - which I was invited to share with the group one evening during meditation and one which I wrote whilst experiencing the silence - Nanpantan Hall.
The Stillness of Silence
When we trust in what we know
at one with our inner glow
the stillness of silence settles us so
Questioning all we perceive as real
abandoning commentary in order to feel
the stillness of silence helps us to heal
Releasing beliefs once held fast
no longer under the spell they cast
the stillness of silence embraces until at last
The doors of perception open wide
no sense of separation, no divide
the stillness of silence with our being collides
Resting in this place of knowing
aware of life, ebbing and flowing
the stillness of silence is us, love, growing
Nanpantan Hall 2021
A dog’s bark echoes down the valley
A screeching bird of prey, leaves its perch, takes flight
Butterflies dance in twos and threes
On a breeze both warm and light
Wasps land on my toes, not one but two
With a twitch of the foot they buzz off
The screeching buzzard makes its presence known
Whilst pollinating bees, busy busy, can’t get enough
Sitting, being, with life as it is
A cooler breeze blows in unjudged
The clouds, like my thoughts are distant, yet there
Simply observed in their passing, not begrudged
The bell is soon to toll, formal sitting time beckons
Wise words will be absorbed and heard
The silence - before and aft - speaks volumes, loud and clear
Shared energy – as free as a bird!
Water – gushing, trickling, still
doesn’t question the changes
simply flows with life’s will
Lilac blossom – blooms ‘n’ flowers
doesn’t question its life-span
oblivious of hours
Flowers in the earth, stars in the sky
never question their worth
or ask how? when? why?
No chatter calling for edits, all happy to play their part
– equal billing in life’s credits
as one from the start
Live in the knowledge of who ‘I’ is
beyond all we learn we are not
beyond all we consider to be me and mine
recognising the true nature we forgot
We forgot as we lived the old paradigm
of separation and material might
believing only in logic’s limitations
ignoring the heart’s yearning to end our plight
Our plight of not being present for now
lost in thought and the promise this holds
Take a leaf of wisdom from nature’s book
and experience life as it flows and unfolds
Flows and unfolds at a rate and a pace of its own
welcoming change and challenge as they arise
oblivious to the concepts of place and time
in the knowledge the ‘I’ never dies
Never dies just takes leave of the body
the personality celebrated yet no more
this realisation is the next Evolution
a life-centric existence our saviour for sure.
In being present in our everyday tasks - living life now - we patiently sow the seeds of compassion, gratitude and love. This in turn alleviates the self-suffering which leads to anxiety and stress in our lives - offering us the freedom we are all entitled to, to live our lives simply and fully. Simply does not equate to easy, contact me now if you would like help and guidance in your mindfulness and meditation practice.
Monthly Meditation evening - A recent contemplation before a meditation
We often discuss how wanting things to be different from the way they are is the very cause of our self-suffering. This is why when we practice - in formal and informal practice - we watch and acknowledge our thoughts. It helps us to realise just how much of our thought is wanting things to be different - for ourselves, for our loved ones, our friends. When we notice thoughts we are discovering things about ourselves.
One way in which we are wanting is to be entertained by thought, of projecting into the future or reminiscing about the past rather than experiencing what is happening right now. Practice helps us realise that without the chitter-chatter there is nothing wrong in this moment and most importantly, all the wants - the new house, the new relationship, the new car, the new outfit - they are things outside of us and none of these things are going to make us happy for long if we are not already happy in the knowing of who we truly are.
The key is to cultivate a new relationship with wanting. Understanding that they may be 'nice-to- have' things in our lives but everything will not be fixed once we have or achieve this or that. We can also be pre-occupied with wanting others to be happy - that's great but we don't need to worry about them. We can love the person without trying to fix them and their problems. Be present for them, as we our for ourselves - self-compassion leads to compassion for all. It is OK to want but be honest where the driving force is coming from. If it is the 'once I have this' scenario we can take a pause, breathe, connect with the heart and feel all the sensations this understanding brings.
We may also find that being present in awareness, we naturally meet some of the needs we are seeking to fulfill from the outside - and often in the most unexpected ways. Stay open to all life has to offer.
Life will be what it will be, life is king.
A Monthly Meditation evening comtemplation
Thoughts in all their guises - we not only give thoughts our attention, we believe them. We create whole story-lines - judgements and beliefs around them. I'm not talking here about analysing and assessing - this is something we need to do but judging every experience as good, bad or indifferent. There will always be an element of judging because there will always be thought but as we watch our thoughts we can watch our judgements. Observe them, like we observe how we talk to ourselves - tone of voice, words used - we do the same with our judgement thoughts.
If someone turns up later than they say they will and we judge them 'thoughtless', or "He's always late" - notice the thought and pause. There might be a good reason for the lateness - we don't know what is going on in other people's lives (and most of the time it's none of our business). Be kind. It doesn't mean you are a pushover, it may be that you need to speak to the person if it is always happening, or perhap make a mental note to add a certain amount of time onto their suggested hour.
We can often judge ourselves harshly, as well as others, when we get lost in the unnecessary running commentary of thought. Life will continue irrespective so judging things - people, events - does not add to our lives, in fact it often has the opposite effect. It may make us feel superior, justified in our 'me, me, me' preoccupation but not for long and that's because this is not natural to who we really are. In mindfulness we talk about needing to be true to ourselves, kind to ourselves - feeling all that arises and falls, not picking and choosing, which only results in tension, dis-ease. Noticing judgements - how we do it, when we do it, discovering all we can from this is a true kindness. Let the judgements thin out with all the other unhelpful thoughts. When they do come, like with any thought, notice and acknowledge them perhaps even congratulate yourself for noticing. The thoughts feel so real. Judgement feels like all opinions, as though they are 'mine' and if we are not observing then hey presto! we'll be back in the stories of 'me, me, me'. It is important to also maybe ask yourself 'is this really my problem/my business'? The way someone dresses, wears their hair, has tattoos or not, their address or career choice - what does any of this mean? What is their relevance to our existence? Yet still we make judgements on these matters and like so many thought patterns they are habitual.
We also concern ourselves with people judging us. What others think of us is none of our business either. During the 8 week course we look at noticing how we speak to others, the expectation, judgement and pre-conceived ideas. Giving judgement the same space we give any thought or sensation - to come and go - whether it be us feeling judged or us doing the judging, is being true, being compassionate - to ourselves and others. Judgement is another type of defence mechanism to protect 'me, me, me'. But the more time we spend in the present, the more our awareness expands, we realise there is nothing, no-one to protect. We don't need to point out how others are lacking when we aren't! Instead we are considerate, respectful - once again, to ourselves and others.
Life is life, things happen. Rather than aiming blame at ourselves and others we should discover the gems this life event is offering us. When we start with blame how far do we go back? Dragging up old stories from the past is unhelpful. We lash out because we feel scared, out of control. But life is constantly showing us that it is simply living, and in that way we have no control. These are opportunities where life is calling on us to increase our awareness. Anger and blame come from us believing that life shouldn't be like this, shouldn't happen in any way other than how we want it to and as we know this is the cause of our self-suffering and futile - the alleviation of which is our aim.
Taken from a series of three meditation evenings on thought and its many guises:
Thoughts - there is nothing wrong with the activity of thinking. In fact when used wisely the thinking process is a unique gift. But we need to recognise thought – the unhelpful, the destructive, the general chit-chat and running commentary – for what it is: fleeting, transient, and most certainly not who we are. We learn to not attach to them, not run away from them, simply notice them.
Have you ever walked through the shallows of the ocean and noticed the seaweed? It drifts in and out on the tide, coming and going, washing around the feet, the toes and then suddenly, a piece snags around the ankles, between the toes. We can either be aware of it, perhaps lift our foot to let it disentangle itself and watch it float away or we can let it catch our attention, worry about how it caught, be agitated by its presence – how it got there, when it will go.
Which of these responses is going to bring us peace in the moment?
So many of our thoughts are very much the same – they snag, they catch our attention then take us on a journey of worrying, questioning, agitation.
Expectation is simply thought in one of its many guises.
When we first come to mindfulness and meditation it can be with expectation. We may expect it to solve our problems, fill a hole, instantly make us feel better. Soon we discover this isn’t the case because it is not the objective. In meditation, as in our lives, when we allow and recognise all aspects of our lives as being as they are, we are behaving naturally - being of our nature – and over time this brings its own rewards.
Sometimes in meditation, as in life, we will feel relaxed, happy and other times we won’t. There will be pain, discomfort, irritation. We are not trying to rid ourselves of anything, we want to just be with whatever is present, irrespective of labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Recently, I sat waiting to see a consultant to get some test results. I sat, feeling the fear, the anticipation and realised there was a deliciousness about the unknown and in the same moment a knowing that whatever the result was I was going to be ok.
Now that wasn’t something I would have expected but hey life isn’t interested in what we expect. You may have had some expectations of what you might read here. Sometimes our expectations are obvious, sometimes subtle. We may not even realise it was an expectation until someone/something says/does something and we feel a reaction against it.
Having an open approach to meditation, our lives, prevents these events from upsetting us. We build a resilience to life. Willingness to allow life to be, to see what happens is one of the kindest, self-compassionate things we can do. The more aware we are, tuned into now, the less likely we are to respond in anything other than a kind, loving, way.
Expectation causes us so much suffering in life, without us even realising it. All of life is about relationships – relationships with one another, with our environment, and with our own thoughts and feelings.
Often, we expect people to behave in a certain way because of our beliefs, thoughts, experiences and our desire to have life go the way we want it to.
How many times have we felt hurt or disappointed because we expected someone to say something, do something the way we wanted them to?
Why should they? It’s laughable when we say it like that. Most of the time we don’t recognise what is going on with our own thoughts so how can we expect to know how someone else is going to behave? We dream up whole scenes - rehearsing what will be said, what responses will be made as though infiltrating someone else’s thoughts – and not just that but then manipulating what they say/do to fit in with our view of what is wanted - and always me, me. me at the centre of the story.
That is why watching our thoughts, acknowledging them for what they are and letting them be, is so important. We learn to understand the power we hand over to thoughts. The pressure we put on ourselves and others when they come as expectations. Through journaling or talking to a friend – or a counsellor/therapist in some cases - we can understand where some of the more stubborn expectations come from and in this knowledge finally release them. Often though, just the understanding that expectation, like any thought, isn’t who we are - is fleeting, transient – this knowledge is enough.
It doesn't mean we go through life without preferences, but it is the relationship with the preferences that is important as is living a life of What is and not What if.
Expectation is all part of the cause of suffering – wanting things to be different to how they are. What's wrong with 'let's see what happens?' As I said in one of my poems “Feel it from the start” –
“the day will be what it will be
it’s our awareness that determines what we see”
This was followed by a formal meditation and rounded off with the following poem:
One more illusion
Footsteps on the deserted pavement tap out the rhythm of the night
as a shower of autumn rain leaves a glistening dew on its surface
Street lights highlight miniature pools, an accumulation of tiny droplets
awaiting dispersement, as the footsteps approach - kicking, flicking into the space of night
Her smoky eyes watch him from her elevated position
the broken silence of life drawing her out
she ponders his existence, his mood, his gait
the lone figure - an air of peace and ease – hand in hand with the present
As if to prove her right, he stops,
tilts his head, looks into the dark depths of the road
smiling wistfully as he watches the reflection of traffic lights changing unbidden,
their colours dancing, sparkling - actors on the screen of tarmac
She can see how far he is from the angry man of a year ago
his thoughts then full of shoulds and coulds
weights and measures, assumptions of what would be
searching for those assurances of life, in guises of hope and expectancy
He walks on, picks up his pace, now aware of the onset of tiredness
- reminding him of the hour –
a feeling made up of sensations, like his anger, to be acknowledged, felt
no story-telling with its victims and recriminations
She knows he senses her, on the periphery of his awareness
there was a time he would welcome her in an open embrace
take her to heart. It would be her hand he held
Always fun – well for her, at least
As he reaches for his garden gate, anticipating the touch of cool wet wood beneath his fingers
he turns, her desire penetrating the air around
knocking hard at the door of his resolve
He wishes her next conquest well
She too smiles ruefully
in his knowing he is lost to her,
it’s time for her to take her leave
Her short dark wings unfurl behind her
Tuning into the chatter of the next mind to stir,
delivery of disappointment in her sights
one more illusion in a life of what if
the Daemon of Expectation takes flight
Let me know if you would like to join the next monthly meditation evening on the last Tuesday of each month.
When I came to take down the Christmas decorations last week I was aware of a feeling of what I always labelled 'anti-climax'. It was part of my pattern, I now recognise, of clinging to the pleasant events in life and not wanting them to end in fear of what may replace them. A pattern which caused my own suffering by wanting life to be different in some way. On recognising this old feeling, I remembered reading how the nervous system responds to triggers from our pasts - it has a memory. Knowing that these feelings and the thoughts that accompanied them were just activities of the body/mind - not who I am - to feel arise and then let fall in their own time, brought a wave of peace and calm allowing me to continue the task in presence. The experience inspired this poem:
Feel some more
Feel, connect, feel some more
Gratitude grounds us to the core
Aware of the nervous system’s memory clinging
In this knowledge comes freedom, the heart is singing
This kindness to allow all to arise
To be truly felt with no disguise
Aware of sensations before they fall
Yes, this is the kindest kindness of all
Letting life be, without the push and pull
Pleasant the master, unpleasantness to cull
Aware of life’s nature, life is King
Be at one with this nature, release the suffering
Aware of all on offer, beyond must-haves and wants
Experience inner wisdom, the heart’s response
Feel, connect, feel some more
Be this wonder, creative to our core
Author: Samantha Hall
Artwork also produced by me.
If you would like to receive these posts directly by email please submit your details by clicking the button below