Tag Archives: acceptance

The ‘magic’ of meditation

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It’s often said that, if you can find the words to describe your meditation, then you weren’t really meditating. That is certainly the case. In the very deepest meditation, there are no words. Just feeling. Just peace. Afterwards, the meditator is left with the feeling of calm, but the experience itself cannot be fully conveyed to someone else. A meditation practice is deeply personal, and deeply transformational.

Which makes it all the harder to explain why meditation makes such a difference to daily life. If you can’t put into words how you feel, what that elusive ‘bliss’ feels like, then how can you explain why it’s so important? The only way to know is to experience it for yourself. But how do you know if you even want to experience it if you don’t know what to expect?

But, what you can describe is how you feel as you enter the state of meditation. The word ‘meditation’ is often used to represent the whole event, the act of meditation  – sitting down in your meditation posture, getting comfortable, focusing on the breath, slowing down from your busy day. But it can also refer specifically to the state of meditation, the moments of utter peace and ‘bliss’ which may make up a much smaller proportion of the total sitting time. You may sit for 10 minutes some days before there’s even a hint of the state of meditation. Maybe longer. Maybe much less. It varies from day to day.

So at this stage of the act of meditating, there are still words. There are thoughts (usually too many!), there are feelings, there are impressions. There are sounds, smells, all manner of physical sensations. There may be the sound of a buzzing insect, birds outside, rain on the roof, children playing, a lawnmower…… There may be the smell of coffee, or baking bread, or dinner being prepared….. There may be an ache in your ankle, your back, your shoulders….. There may be thoughts racing around, a shopping list, yesterday’s argument, a dream you woke up from this morning, what to cook for dinner, how long have you been sitting here for, is this really what meditating is supposed to be like?

But then, something starts to change.  All these things are still there. But there’s a distance. A space starts to open up. They all seem further away. They no longer grip your awareness. There’s something else, deeper, more profound. The body may feel like it’s letting go, sinking deeper, whilst at the same time feeling like it’s lifting taller. You may feel both heavier and lighter at the same time. The thoughts are there but there’s a detachment now, they don’t have the same power over you. There’s not the same emotional involvement. There’s not as much narrative going on.

There’s a sense of relief, of rest, of space, of peace. Before words are no longer there.

At least, that’s how it is for me. You’ll have to try it for yourself!

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Alison x

Our own little world

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Are you, like me, sometimes in your own little world?

Do you sometimes get so absorbed in your own experience of something, or your own thoughts, that you forget that, all around you, others are experiencing the world in their own, unique way – a way which could be completely different to yours?

A couple of days ago, I was waiting to collect my son from the train.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and, as I was waiting, I was people-watching.  You know, just watching the world go by.  Just noticing people. All, no doubt, in their own little worlds. And then, I saw a lady walking her dog.  The dog was trotting along, a jaunty little thing, running on its little legs to keep up with its owner’s walking pace.  It stopped to sniff a couple of times, but each time the lead grew a little tighter, just trotted along again to catch up, in such a way that it seemed barely perceptible  to the owner that her dog was exploring the world of the pavements and the hedges with such attention.  She, meanwhile, was focused ahead, looking at the blue sky, the view in front of her, raising her face to the autumn warmth.

And it was so apparent that, although they were on the same walk, their experiences were totally different.  Maybe not so surprising, given that they were different species, and given the difference in their height.  It may look a little strange if we walked along and bent down to sniff the pavement!

But I’m sure that this same sort of thing happens all the time, with our children, our partners, our friends.  We think we have experienced something together, and we have – and yet, we will have perceived it in very different ways.  Our reality is filtered – by our expectations, our memories, our mood, our likes and dislikes, or raga and dwesha to use the yogic terms. A very young child will approach a walk in a very different way to an older child, or an adult.  They are more open to the moment, to the present moment in which they find themselves.  They are not constrained by the weight of their former experiences, they are not motivated by time, so they are able to be in the moment, and take as long as they want.  Every leaf, every stick – as every parent knows! – can be worth seeking out, and spending time with, no matter what the destination is, no matter the purpose of the walk. Each and every moment is valued equally.

As adults, we can try to enter into that world through the practice of mindfulness. We can learn a lot from watching a small child (or even a jaunty little dog!). Whilst not every 5 minute walk can take an hour – try explaining you’re late to work because you were collecting perfectly formed pine cones or stones! – we can still really see, feel, and hear our surroundings.  We can register the feel of our steps on the pavement, the sound of the birds in the sky, the sensation of sun – or rain! – on our skin. We can usually spare a second of our time to notice the smells around us, maybe we pass a rose bush or a jasmine, or some freshly mown grass (one of the best smells in the world, surely!)

And sometimes we could go for a walk, just for the sake of it, just for the experience.  By the sea, in the woods, in a park – it doesn’t matter. Just walking mindfully, fully experiencing all there is to experience, as freshly and directly as possible.  A walk like this can shift our mood, shake us out of our preconceptions, and remind us that we are more than we think we are.  Instead of letting all our opinions, our expectations, our habits and preferences enclose us, we can expand and grow when we look at the world in a new way.

And I think our homes, our workplaces – ok, the whole world! – would be better places if we stopped to remember just how much we colour our experiences through the lens of our perception.  If we stopped to remember that someone else’s perception is just as valid as our own.  If we stopped believing that our way is the right way or the only way.  If we valued feelings and values as much as ‘facts‘. If we started accepting others, no matter what.

And starting in a small way, in our homes, we can truly change the world, as well as our own little world.

Putting meditation to the test

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a small spider joining me during my meditation (A calm clear mind). I speculated that there may have been some difference in my composure if it had been a larger creature.  Well, this morning the test came! I had just settled down in my conservatory at 5.40am, having completed Surya Namaskara and had just started working through Pawanmuktasana 1 when I noticed three long, thick legs sticking out of the gap beneath the cladded wall. I continued my practice but kept looking out of the corner of my eye to see if the legs had moved. They didn’t, for the longest time.  They were just there, every time I looked. So, whilst continuing calmly, I decided this needn’t interrupt my practice.  Live and let live, he wasn’t bothering me, so why should I try to remove him?  Plus, taking a spider outside at that time of day would mean going all the way back through the house – risking waking my family – to get something to catch him with, unlocking the front door, getting some shoes and then trailing out into the garden to find somewhere nice to put him.  Plus potential running and even more commotion if he started scurrying out of the container with those long legs on my way through the house!

So, there I was, and there he was. He came out of his little home and had a walk.  Not far, just enough to make me move over a bit! As the long legs would have suggested, he was BIG!  Really big.  But not fast.  He walked a few inches  – not even in my direction, to be fair – and then stopped.  I continued my practice, on to my arms and shoulders by this point, risked closing my eyes, and then peeked again.  He was walking back.  Back to his original spot, until I could just see his legs again!

At which point, I finished pawanmuktasana and settled in for meditation. I turned my back on the spider so I couldn’t be tempted to check on him, and had a lovely practice, letting go of all the anxieties – it really wasn’t strong enough to call fear, let’s say disquiet.  And yes, he was still resting in the exact same spot when I finished at 7am. I hope he had as peaceful a time as me!

Then I rushed on to my day, breakfast, school run, classes, shopping, and now writing before the ironing, school run, swimming lessons – oops, have I missed out lunch again??  I haven’t had time to see if my long-legged friend is still there.  I guess he might be joining me again tomorrow!

And the thing about meditation is – there is room for all these distractions and unscheduled things.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Yes, my mind could have taken over – but it didn’t.  I was fully aware of how I was feeling – a little wary, assessing how fast /far he was likely to move. I reminded myself that, however big he looked, he was still tiny in comparison to me, and that he certainly wasn’t going to hurt me, even if he did come and sit on me like the other spider did. I experienced how it made me feel to share my space with him, but didn’t let myself spin off and ruin my own practice. Not something that would have been possible in my pre-meditation days. Mindfulness, being present with whatever comes up – that is the heart of meditation. Today might not have been utter bliss from start to finish, but it was fine.

 

Blue Monday

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Today is Blue Monday, the Monday which is supposed to be the most depressing of the entire year to come.  Several years ago, the third Monday of January was decided upon for this dubious honour, after taking into account the weather and the time still to wait for spring, the time since Christmas and the debt we may have accumulated over the festive period, as well as – for many of us – having had long enough to have given up on our New Year resolutions.  But as I wrote in a recent post, we can resolve on positive change at any time of the year, so we can start anew at any time that suits us – and spring is often a great time for doing just that, when we have the whole of nature joining with us!

And as for the weather, well it is snowy and cold, but it IS January, and it could be a lot worse!  I am definitely in the wrong country for year-round blue skies, but I like the variety of the weather through the seasons, which is often echoed in our own mental states.  It isn’t all that realistic to expect to be happy all the time, and in fact our pursuit of happiness may be what causes us the most distress.  We try to hold on to the things which we perceive as making us happy, whilst pushing away those things which make us miserable.  But to experience true moments of joy, we  need to embrace all aspects of our lives, not just those we label as ‘good’.  We have to have winter as well as summer, we need Mondays to follow the weekends, and life cannot be one long holiday for the vast majority of us.  And so true happiness involves acceptance and an ability to flow through the seasons as well as allowing our feelings to come and go without trying to hold on to the moments of happiness.  In ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’, journalist  Oliver Burkeman questions the validity of happiness as a goal, being as chasing after happiness can make us so unhappy.  This insight is fundamental to the practice of both yoga and Buddhism, and perhaps we would find happiness easier to achieve if we practised acceptance of all our states of mind,  of  all the events of our lives, not just those we label as good, but of those we might initially consider ‘bad’ as well.  We would likely achieve a more balanced and calmer mind, and that in itself can lead to greater contentment with our lives.

Changing ourselves

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Recently I have been noticing that so many people say they hate this, they hate that……about themselves, about others, about the circumstances of their lives. Whilst hate is a strong word to use, it is bandied around on a daily basis – I hear it all the time.

Being unhappy about a particular part of our lives can be an important instigator of change. It can give us the push we need to address an issue which has maybe got out of hand. We try to change the circumstances which are bothering us, and perhaps we may manage to improve the quality of our day to day life.

But what exactly is it we are attempting to change? Ultimately it is only  ourselves we can change.  We can temper our reactions to others and to the events of our lives. And by doing this, we might get a new insight; we might realise that the thing or person that was bothering us is not so bad after all. We might take ourselves out of the equation and realise that not everything is a personal attack – that that way of thinking is just our ego putting us in the centre of the universe.

And sometimes, just by seeing the events and people of our lives in a more impersonal way, a little bit of magic happens and those who were upsetting us seem to change along with ourselves. As Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world.  Whatever we want to change in the external world, we need to start internally, with our own hearts and minds. And until those changes begin to manifest, we need to practise an equanimity, an acceptance of all the people and events of our lives, and to know the difference between what we can change, and those things we cannot.

Wishing you a Happy and peaceful New Year!

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Despite writing an earlier blog entry on how much easier it is to adopt new patterns and positive habits in our lives in the spring time than the depths of winter, I cannot resist the new year.  I relish the opportunity to start anew yet again, to try to do better than last year, but also to look at the positives that have come out of the preceding year. 2012 has been a good year on so many levels. Nationally, we have celebrated the diamond jubilee, closely followed by a spectacular Olympic games. We have every reason to look back fondly on the past year. And the world didn’t end last week, which is a huge bonus!

On a personal level, this has been a mixed year, one in which I have experienced both highs and lows, both loss and gain, but one in which I have learned to see the blessings in disguise, the lessons in the events I’ve been tempted to call ‘bad’, and have learnt to lessen my attachment to the ‘good’ things. I have learnt the importance of taking better care of myself, so that I can take better care of others, and to that end have renewed my commitment to a daily yoga and meditation practice – something which has been ongoing  for several months now, so if you find your resolve weakening over the next few weeks, you always have another chance to start again, whatever the time of year.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a daily practice of Kriya yoga, which requires me to learn a new practice each week, whilst reducing the number of rounds of previous practices. Prior to that I was working on specific exercises for individual chakras for a month at a time. Several times, I’ve found a particular practice so beneficial that I haven’t really wanted to move on, but I find it helpful to continue to follow my practice schedule, thereby not allowing myself to get too attached to one specific kriya, but instead flowing from one practice to another, accepting the individual benefits whilst still uncovering the secrets of the whole picture.

When first learning to meditate, we may feel nothing until one day we suddenly experience something which makes us understand why we are doing this in the first place. And then we may wish for this experience every time we practice. And it won’t come! It may take days, or weeks, before we feel that way again. But we persevere. We accept that our meditation practice, just like life in general, offers us the highs and the lows, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. We learn to see beyond the way we usually label things; we see both the good in the bad and the bad that sometimes comes from what we see as good in the first instance.  We learn that we don’t always know if things are good or bad, and so we learn acceptance and equanimity.

So this New Year, I resolve to maintain and develop my practice, and to foster these qualities of acceptance and equanimity as much as I possibly can. And to be kind to myself on those occasions I don’t manage it, but to allow myself to start anew again and again!

Finding balance

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Some yoga students find balance postures easy.  But many, many more find them difficult.  And even once we master a particular asana, on some days they may still prove more challenging than others.

I think balance is like this.  We can be drifting along, happily centred and relaxed with the way things are in our lives, and then something happens, maybe even something quite small, which rocks us and knocks us off balance.  A little irritation, a cross word, an unexpected traffic jam, anything which interrupts the natural flow of our day can throw us off course and make us lose our balance.  Imagine that you are walking along a nice, smooth path, which you’ve walked many times before, and then – bam! – you land on the ground.  You’d never noticed that patch of uneven ground before.

Maybe we weren’t ‘in the moment’.  Perhaps we were concerned with other things than the here and now.  Maybe that’s what tripped us up.

We can be ‘tripped up’ in our yoga practice, too.  We can think yes, the tree is a cinch, I really get it!  And then comes the day when it’s just too much to concentrate, to focus, and it’s not so easy.  The tree is wobbly, it’s a real effort.  It’s harder to stay grounded through the foot while reaching up with the arms than it should be, than it normally is.

Maybe what we tried to do was to set a moment in stone, instead of noticing the flow of our life.  ‘I can do this posture, it’s easy, now I will be able to do it forever’.  And then we can’t!  Instead of getting irritated with ourselves, and getting even further from our centre, we could remember that everything is changing, and practice acceptance of where we are today, in this moment, in this class, right now.  Not last week, certainly not last month or last year.  And when we do master that posture again, to try to relax into it, not to grasp after that success, not to cast it in stone, but to live in this moment, the here and now.

Sometimes, we can take our practice away from our normal environment.  Practicing in nature, maybe on the grass or on the beach, can add in the challenge of uneven ground.  Then we need to step up our mindfulness, and ease up on the need for perfection.  We can feel the movement in our body as we try to find equilibrium, without leaning into any wobbles and making them worse.  In our lives, when we encounter those irritations that disturb our peace of mind, we can learn to stay in our centre, rather than lean into the wobbles of our mind, and worsen things by our unhelpful reactions. We take the lesson from our yoga on the mat, and use them in our lives when we are off the mat.