We begin with body practices (body scan, yoga and walking). What we learn in the body practices informs our breathing practice, and from there we move to an open awareness practice.
It is important to experience all of these practices, to learn what they offer and to emerge from the course with a capacity to work wisely, choosing and mixing the different meditation practices to best "meet yourself at the moment". The meditation jargon calls this, "working with skilful means'.
Here are 8 Tips to be more skillful.
It is useful to remember that the practice is not about fixing anything or striving to achieve a particular outcome. Often we sit down to meditate, hoping to calm ourselves so letting go of an outcome can feel counter-intuitive,
When we expect our minds to be calm and quiet and they are not, we start telling ourselves we are doing it wrong and it's easy to be self-critical.
Rather than trying to get somewhere we learn to relax and rest back into the awareness that's always here. We recognise and allow whatever we are experiencing, whether we like it or not.
2. Arriving in the body
The first practice we learn is a body scan. Instructions often begin with sensing into the body as there is no possibility of presence if we do not awaken to our senses. As we move into sitting practices, we continue to begin by sensing into the body. The body is like a barometer. It often detects what is happening with our thinking and our moods before we become consciously aware of this.
The second practice we learn in a MBSR course is more of a concentration practice. Once we have "arrived in the body", we might begin to focus on an anchor to stabilise our attention and support a quieter mind.
The most common anchor is the breath. In our breathing practice, there are different places you can attend to the breath. You can focus on the nostrils. Some prefer to focus on the rising and falling of the chest or the expanding and deflating of the belly. Others prefer to focus on the felt sense of the whole body breathing.
The breath is ever present, is embodied and once again is an indicator of our emotional state.
For some people, the breath isn't the preferred primary anchor especially if there's been a history of trauma or respiratory problems such as asthma. There are always alternatives. An alternative anchor might be the sensations in the hands or listening to sound.
Different anchors have different strengths, and as you deepen in your practice, you might choose a different anchor at different times. Sound creates more of an open quality, a more receptive presence while breath is more refined, narrowing the focus and sometimes leading to greater quietness. It is worthwhile experimenting with both.
4. Remember the anchor is not the meditation
It is a common misunderstanding to believe that the practice is all about coming back to the breath or coming back to an anchor. We start with an anchor to support us in arriving in present moment experience, and if your mind is very scattered this may be settling, it may be enough.
However, if the mind is already quiet, you don't have to have an anchor. If all you ever do is focus on the breath, you miss a more detailed reality. You'll miss experiencing reality as a flow of changing moment to moment experience.
In an MBSR course, we reflect on how our reality is constructed and focus on how stress arises. For instance, in Week 1 of the course, we eat a sultana very slowly. Often people notice this brings memories of school. For some, this leaves them feeling happy, for others slight distress. In our meditation practice, we become as aware as possible of this flow of experience - much of which is usually below conscious awareness
In an open awareness practice we might rest with a 'primary anchor', but as other internal experiences call for our attention, we release the focus on the anchor and open to the new something, letting it rest in the foreground of our attention.
Your attention could rest with breath, then the body, sounds or thoughts, and move back to the breath. An intense body sensation might emerge, or strong emotions. It makes no difference whether the new focus is pleasant or unpleasant, we give it the same even-handed, kind attention - just like you are orientating yourself to listen to a good friend.
In a way, you are continually asking, "what is happening inside me right now and can I be with this?" You stay with experience noticing it. It'll get stronger or fade, and there is nothing to do other than to notice what happens.
When it's no longer predominant, the practice is to return, gently resting with an anchor. The teaching instruction might say something like, "If the mind is quiet and steady just resting in the awareness that's here. Know that you're here right here moment to moment".
We need both wings of mindfulness to fly - attention and intention.
It's vital to approach whatever is arising with a clear and soft attention and to embody an attitude of curiosity and non-judgmental acceptance.
We have a go at extending this attitude to our experience even when we notice ourselves being self-critical.
7. Drifting off is not necessarily a problem.
We arrive through paying attention to through our body senses, establish with a focus for attention and then might open to the changing flow of experience. These elements are not linear. We'll arrive, establish our attention and open to the life that's there, and then wander off again.
Each time you notice you've drifted off in your practice is an opportunity to deepen your awareness. As soon as you become aware that you have drifted off you are back in the present moment approaching mindfulness. It is a fresh opportunity to approach yourself in a friendly way and return to the present moment by relaxing back into presence rather than being self-critical.
We pay attention kindly; we drift off, we notice our attention has drifted, and we focus.
"So, once again, listening to sounds, focusing on the breath, softening and feeling into the body. You can start fresh at any moment. Softening your attention and resting back into an awareness of what already is there, in the body, the mind, through the senses, and kindly."
Gosh…that's a big question. Starting a practice and keeping it going will soon be a blog post of its own. Here are a few basic tips.
1. If you have never meditated before it's easiest to learn with support.
You might start with an app like headspace that has a free program included- 10 min a day for ten days. If this interests you, it is worth plunging in.
- A course like MBSR aims to teach meditation in an applied way to help build resilience to stress. It provides a teacher with accredited training and peers for enriching discussion and support. An 8-week course takes into account that it takes time to learn new things and incorporate them into your life. It's practical and enjoyable.
2. If you have already immersed yourself in meditation:
- Schedule it in, make it an odinary routine just like brushing your teeth.
- Aim for 30 min a day, but do what you can 10 min is better than none.
- Find a community. Just like in your MBSR course, find people to meditate with, and to reflect with, to motivate you!
- Nurture your practice. Attend a retreat. Grow your pracice by doing a HeadRest annual compassion course in Feb, or do MBSR again (most people say they get more out of it the second time), or come to our monthly practice groups ( start in April when the compassion course finishes). We're mammals! We respond to being social, even with meditation!
The next HeadRest MBSR course and the annual compassion course for MBSR graduates begin Feb 2019. To book got to www.headrest.com.au. Book now to secure an early bird discount.