Monthly Archives: April 2012

Non-attachment

Standard

When people think about non-attachment, they may worry that the closer they manage to get to it, the less interesting they might become.  After all, isn’t it our views, our opinions, our likes and dislikes, that make us who we are?  Who are we, if we take all that away, and are simply ourselves?  Instead of vibrant, multi-coloured beings, would we become sort of grey and wishy-washy?  Without our emotional outbursts would be less than we are with them?

I like to think that non-attachment is just a way of holding on less tightly to our beliefs, our opinions, our goods and bads, our rights and our wrongs.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t still love strawberries and cream, or sunny days.  Of course we’ll still love our families, our children and our friends.  If we’re lucky, we may also love our work and our homes.  We don’t need to get greyed out by a developing spirituality.  Instead, we can still live our lives to the full.  If we want to wear bright colours and really enjoy them, so be it.  If we truly savour a huge piece of chocolate cake, why not?  We are being mindful in our appreciation of the flavour and texture!  If you’ve ever met someone you would describe as deeply spiritual, would you also describe them as boring?  Most of the inspirational teachers, healers and yogis I’ve met have an infectious zest for life, a joy and humour which engages everyone they meet.  The trick is to hold onto life less tightly and discover the joy inherent in more and more of life.  Becoming more present in day to day living, and finding less time to stress over the yesterdays and tomorrows.  Being human, we will always have likes and dislikes, but instead of the huge troughs and peaks of our lives, perhaps the ground can become a little more even, our path a little easier, simply by releasing our strong hold on the way we want things to be.

When we first learn to meditate, just the sitting and being still can be so hard.  We very slowly become more comfortable with this, until we can lengthen the stillness, and gently start to quieten the mind.  After many such practices, we may eventually have a more profound experience; we may genuinely experience a deep inner peace.  We will want to recover that same sense of peace the next time we sit quietly.  We may not find it.  It may take many more practices before we find it again.  And here we find the challenge – we are to practise non-attachment even here. When we meditate, we learn to let go of the outcome.  Some days, it will be wonderful, we will feel wonderful.  Other days, it will be hard – our mind will refuse to quieten down, our body will be aching and desperate to move.  And we still practice, regardless of whether it is easy or hard, wonderful or terrible.  And in continuing to practice anyway, we are learning a steadiness of purpose, a steadfastness which we can use in our lives.  We learn to let go of the outcome in all our pursuits.  We don’t let go of what makes us ourselves, but we do let go of the tightly-held beliefs with which we attempt to make ourselves right, and others wrong.  We find the unity between us and those around us, instead of the differences.  Not boring, not dull, but actually quite spectacular.

Advertisements

Saying yes to life

Standard

The other day, when I was parking my car to do some shopping, I noticed another driver waiting for me to reverse into my space.  Sometimes, I’ll be the first to admit, I can be slow to park, especially if it’s a tight space, but on this occasion, I parked quickly and easily.  And yet, those few seconds in which I was parking had held up another driver to the extent that her face was all grumpy and tight-looking.  As soon as I was in the space, she shot me a filthy look and zoomed off in search of another space, closer to the supermarket entrance.

This small encounter got me thinking about what sort of day this lady was going to have, if someone parking –  in a car park! – could upset her so greatly. To be fair, she may already have been having a bad day, before I cost her valuable time.  I don’t want to judge.  But it’s worth noticing when we get so worked up about such small things, and how we can cause ourselves to have a bad day.  Maybe we could make our day better if we tried to snap out of the frame of mind which is judging everything to be less than satisfactory.  Maybe we could notice the good things as well as the bad.   Maybe we could avoid labelling the minor events of our lives as good and bad  – just saying yes instead of no  to all those small details of life.

In yoga, we have the terms raga (attachment) and dwesha (aversion).  To attain a steady state of mind we need to learn to transcend these two – by not being so attached to the way we want things to be, and to stop saying a  big  ‘no!’ when things are not the way we want.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a couple of posts inspired by the spring season, which came early and hot this year.  Now we appear to have gone back to winter, with cold, wet weather, storms and gales.  Whilst so many of us do feel better in glorious sunshine, we have to flow with what is.   We can enjoy the ‘good’ times while they last, but not rail against the ‘bad’ times.  We wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine as much if we didn’t have the rain, and we wouldn’t live in a green and leafy country.  We wouldn’t appreciate the days everything seems to go ‘our way’, if we didn’t have days when everything goes ‘wrong’.  But the lesson of non-attachment (vairagya) is to moderate our responses to what we perceive as good and bad, right and wrong.  To flow through our lives with less resistance to what is.  To rejoice in the sunshine, but to accept the rain without complaint.

We might habitually say ‘no’ on the inside to traffic jams, bad weather, meeting moody people, interruptions to our practice, phone calls when we’ve had a much needed early night, bills……the list goes on!!

What things do you find yourself saying a big ‘no’  to in your life?  How would it feel if you tried saying ‘yes’ instead?

Family life and spiritual development

Standard

walk-familysunset Unless you are a nun or a monk living remotely from others, you will have the additional challenge of developing or maintaining your spiritual practice alongside many personal, social and work commitments.  Some teachers have suggested that this is so difficult to do that most serious aspirants will find themselves shedding relationships along the way. For those of us who wish to develop or maintain a spiritual practice as well as our existing commitments to our families and friends, the going might be tough, but it is possible.

In my last post, I wrote about the challenge of finding time to maintain or to begin a yoga or meditation practice within the context of family life.  Today, I want to look more deeply at how our daily lives can feed into our practice.

The mindfulness practice discussed previously is a powerful way to make every moment rich with potential for spiritual awareness. Think of the wonder a small child displays about his or her world. The freshness, the newness of their eyes.  A walk with a toddler can take so long, as they pause to examine a leaf, a twig, or a stone every few steps. Going that same route alone, we tend to be focused on our destination, barely noticing our surroundings. Yet how much richer our experience would be if we took the time to really look around us as we walk, to develop an appreciation for our neighbourhood, for the beauty of nature, and to take time to smile at those we meet along the way. The world becomes a much friendlier and lovelier place!

Jesus said that people would need to become like small children to enter the kingdom of heaven. If we pause to consider what this means, I think it touches on this innocence and sense of wonder that our children have. We need to become more open to the inherent joy and beauty of our lives.  And on the days that this joy is hard to come by, how often do you find that happiness in the company of your child?  In their unconditional love for you, their parent?  That simplicity of a child’s outlook, when a cuddle with a loved one puts so much right – we can really learn from that!

But I think another way we can learn from our children is in the way they live in the moment. Toddlers and young children are known for their tantrums and fluctuating emotions. I’m not suggesting that we start to follow their example and throw our own tantrums – although many of us do display our own adult versions at times!  Very young children may still be learning to cope with their strong feelings, but they don’t usually bottle them up and repress them in the way they might when they get older.  They really feel them!  They really show them! They’re upset – they cry.  They’re angry or frustrated – they shout or hit.  But the main difference between a young child and an older child or an adult, is that they then tend to let that emotion pass – the energy of the emotion subsides, and they will generally return to their more sunny selves.  What a lesson!  Children just are more present in the moment than us.  They may act out their feelings, but then they let them go.  If the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is taken in the sense of being in touch with our own spirit through our presence and our awareness, then children are winning hands down.

The sad thing is that as we teach our children to cope with their feelings, we could inadvertently be teaching them to store them up, to suppress them, and then their emotions may stop coming out in that same instant, cleansing way it did when they were small.  Somehow we need to find balance in the way we help our children cope with their feelings – to encourage them to show their feelings, albeit in slightly less dramatic ways than a toddler tantrum.  We need to be clear with our children that all their feelings are acceptable, even though some actions are not.  We must not make it seem as though sadness or anger, for example, are not allowed – they’re very much real emotions, even if, from our adult perspective, the feeling seems out of proportion to the cause.  We will encourage our children to share their feelings with us, if we extend ourselves, every time we can manage, with empathy and concern; if we genuinely listen to what they are saying and wonder why they are saying it. Remembering that we do not have all the answers, and just because we might not like what our child is saying, doesn’t make it wrong. Honouring our child’s individuality, and his or her right to their own feelings. Loving the fact that they are not a little extension of ourselves, but have their own unique spirit.  And helping them to maintain – and ourselves to rediscover – that presence they had when they first came into the world.

What other ways have you found yourself learning from your child?  In what ways do you think your practice actually grows with your family, despite having less time for asana or meditation practice?  Leave a reply – I’d love to hear your experience!

Finding time to be present

Standard

woman-690118_1280

In my yoga and therapy practice, particularly in my work with new mothers, people often say to me that they have no time to themselves, and certainly no time to sit in meditation.  I know from my own experience of early motherhood that there really was no time to call my own in those early weeks and months.  Yoga definitely took a back seat!

So it might seem that new parenthood would be the very worst time to try to start a meditation practice, when the demands on our time are so vast and often so overwhelming.  But the benefits of even a short meditation can be even more beneficial at this time.

In fact, the opportunities for meditation are rich and varied  for a new parent.  Simply practising mindfulness in any activity, being fully present in that moment, is a form of meditation.  Take that overwhelming feeling of connection with a young baby that a parent experiences.  Total mindfulness.  When calming an overtired infant, it can be helpful to calm yourself, simply focusing on your breath, slowing it down, and watching the effect this has on your child.  Pranayama in action!  At the very least, a parent can cope better with what is often such an emotional strain when they take a few conscious breaths.

Being fully present when feeding, instead of being tempted to read, watch television or check social media on your phone, can be a form of meditation.  Even if you only manage it for one feed now and then – simply allowing yourself some time with your baby when there are no other distractions.  None of us can aspire to be mindful all of the time, but we could try to choose a particular activity in which to practise presence of mind – ideally something we do several times a day.  Even a mundane task can be a chance to remind ourselves, to simply be in the moment.  So we can be mindful when we’re washing up, preparing or eating a meal, or doing the housework.

Buddhist author of Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children, Sarah Napthali, recommends what she calls ‘the one-minute grab’:

‘During a full day with children, you occasionally find time to yourself which typically lasts about one minute.  I often use this time to practise mindfulness of the breath and am constantly amazed at the results that even one minute of focussing on the rise and fall of my breath can achieve.  It’s calming and somehow leaves you feeling more positive.’

Even when our children are older, we find that the minutes we grab for our yoga or meditation practice are frequently interrupted.  An active baby or toddler finds mummy bending over or lying on the floor an irresistible climbing frame and potential playmate.  An older child might want to join in with our practice. Whilst it can be frustrating at times and all our peaceful feelings might fly away instantaneously, I love the point made by Tibetan Lama Choedak and commented on by Napthali in ‘Buddhism for Mothers’:

‘…practice and parenting should be as one and…we needn’t compartmentalise one from the other.  If your child cries when you are halfway through your meditation, your concentration needs to flow smoothly, without resistance and mental comment, to what is required of you in that moment: comforting your baby.’

So we flow from our practice into the demands of our family life, so that they become indistinguishable.  Instead of wishing things were other than they are, and that we had completed a wonderfully relaxing meditation or invigorating asana practise, we flow with the reality of the present moment.  We accept our daily life and make it a part of our practice.  We learn to simply be with whatever the present moment brings us.

If you have tried to maintain or begin some kind of yoga or meditation practice whilst bringing up your family, I’d love to hear about your experience – leave a comment below.

Quote

‘Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals’

                                                                                                                      ~ Mahatma Gandhi

A particularly relevant quote that came to mind after I wrote my post today.

Peace quote

Loving-kindness

Standard

In Buddhism, as well as in yoga philosophy, there is a term maitri, which means loving-kindness or friendliness.  Imagine someone you hold most dear:  a partner, a parent, a child.  Feel that very simple and uncomplicated love –  an unconditional love which means you love them despite any of their faults;  you want only the best for them;  you talk and act in kindness to them.  This is maitri.

Now try to apply that kind of loving to yourself.  Can you be that kind, that uncritical, that forgiving, that accepting of who you are?  This is something a lot of us find hard to do.  What kind of language do you use when you talk to yourself?  Do you call yourself names, do you criticise yourself and laugh at your own dreams?  There are plenty of others who will do that for you.

Now think about someone in your life who is difficult, someone who is tricky to get along with.  Can you apply this  loving-kindness to them?  Hard, isn’t it?!  And yet this is something we all need to try to become a more loving, caring and peaceful society.

Buddhists practise meditations in which they expand their ability to love, from their most dearly loved, through to themselves, their friends and neighbours, to those they have no strong feelings about either way – they don’t love them but they have no negative feelings about them either. Only when this feels easier do they start to expand their circle of loving-kindness even wider – to those truly difficult people in life, and to those they have never met.

To apply this practice in our own lives, we start with ourselves , or with our loved ones, and work outwards in ever-increasing circles of love and kindness. We start to see more clearly that others are not so very different from ourselves, and we see the ways in which we make them different – the ways in which we use our attitudes and our beliefs to put a wall around ourselves.  Working gently with ourselves can help us to show more compassion to others as well.   Talking more positively to ourselves, switching off the negative mind-chatter through meditation or yoga practice, can enable us to grow into our true potential.  Cultivating maitri towards ourselves and others is one of the ways that Patanjali recommends for creating a calm and peaceful mind, alongside compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (Samadhi Pada, Sutra 33).

The gift of the present

Standard

How many times during the day are you truly in the present moment? How many times are you mindful of your actions, your breath, your body, your thought processes?

For many of us, it is very few.  We may move through our day on auto-pilot, dwelling on something from earlier, the day before, or last week.  We may be busily planning into the future – what we are going to do when we finish work, at the weekend, or when our holidays arrive.  Sometimes, we need to process earlier events, and sometimes we need to plan future events in order to move our lives forwards, but all the time??

To be in the moment is to be fully in the present, and this is a true gift.  The present moment is the moment in which we can change everything;  it is the time when we yoke together our body and our mind.  All else is the mind moving forwards and back in time, being coloured by our attitudes, our beliefs, our hopes and our fears.  If we rush through life towards the next goal, we are missing so much of the joy of life.  We are not noticing the good things in every day – yes, every day.  We may be missing the miracle of our breathing, of our ability to move and stretch our body, the fact that we have clothing, a home, loving family and friends – and we have all this right now. On our darkest days, these are the things that might bring a smile to our faces, and give us the courage to carry on.  On our best days, these are the things that embody us, and keep our feet on the ground as our spirit soars.

On my first Jin Shin Jyutsu training, led by an inspirational teacher and healer, we were asked one morning how many conscious breaths we had taken since waking.  Life can be such a rush, particularly when attending an intensive training course, that many of us had woken up, got ready and rushed to class.  We then remedied that with a group practice of the 36 breaths – closing the eyes and focusing completely on each of 36 breaths.  This is a practice I often repeat when I need to bring myself back to the present, and one which you can adapt if you find 36 too much to begin with.  9 breaths repeated 4 times through the day, or even just one set of 9 breaths in the morning, or whenever you need to bring yourself back to the moment, can make a big difference.

If you practise yoga, you will be used to tuning in to your body in asana practice, feeling the sensations that arise and the stillness within as you move into each posture.  If you practise other exercises, you may find that they also help you to focus on your body, and to calm your mind.  Any exercise or activity can be practised with more awareness, more mindfully, to bring you into the present.  Whether you are walking, cooking, gardening, washing up, or cleaning the house, you can bring this attention to your actions and to your senses, bringing you fully into the moment, and helping you to become aware of the pleasure inherent in even mundane activities.  And bringing you into the gift of the present.