Heaven is Inside

I enjoy this Coldplay lyric from 2011’s ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyMhvkC3A84)

and so apparently do they, as it has been used again in the recent ‘Miracles’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7atDQreame4).

Our mind state inside effects everything. We know this from the difference between the days when we get out of the wrong side or the right side of the bed! Experiencing our day as heavenly or as hellish begins with the attitude of mind within.

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Whenever I hear this lyric, I am reminded and am grateful that I have a choice because of my many years of Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight practice. A choice (sometimes) between following a habitual pattern that causes me to suffer or refraining from that habit and creating space for something more skilful to unfold.

For example, when I notice some resentful muttering about someone or something I don’t like, which makes me feel contracted and angry, I can notice and allow it, look at the stories I am telling myself, feel the feelings of resentment and perhaps see that the stories aren’t real and let them be. I can remind myself of my intention to be kind and compassionate and this can create space for some equanimity to emerge. I am then released from the resentment, that otherwise might have clouded the whole of my day. If I don’t notice the resentment I am completely under its control.

We have been exploring this at the MSc: Studies in Mindfulness weekend (click here for more information) just gone at Samye Ling, in relation to anger and egocentric desire. With anger we can remind ourselves of our intention to practice gentle friendliness to ourselves and our world and with desire we can remind ourselves of our intention to act compassionately to ourselves and to others. We also look at the stories we tell ourselves about anger and desire and sometimes we can see they are just not real and then we can let them go.

We had a great discussion on the weekend about free will and determinism. From our experience of practice, we can begin to see how little free will we have when we cannot notice the habitual patterns that govern and control us. But we can learn to notice and refrain from our habits – we learn to exercise our free won’t!

In this way, we might gradually transform a hell inside, governed by anger, desire, fear and ignorance into a heaven governed by loving kindness, compassion and clear seeing. But it takes effort!

So if you fancy making the effort, why not join us? Visit the website and see if there is a course you fancy? (click here) or maybe join our membership (link). In the meantime have a look at our free Mindfulness app (Mindfulness Based Living on Google Play store for Android or the App store for IOS).

I look forward to us creating together the conditions that enable us to have a choice. Gradually, we can begin to create more of a heaven inside from which to experience our world!

Kind Wishes

Heather

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Train Delayed

I am on my way to Manchester to for our weekly MAHQ meeting. I travel down from Lockerbie nowadays and I have to change at Preston. Today my train onwards from Preston was cancelled amid a wonderful array of conflicting announcements – that it was on time, that it was delayed and that it was cancelled. Then I transferred to the platform for the next service, which was then delayed, with a tantalising array of drivers turning trains on and off at the platform and then joining trains together.

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Amid this I noticed my mind calculating when and whether to change platform, for the alternate train and then assessing the odds of the second train leaving on time or at all, intermittently referring to the train app on my phone for additional nuggets of information. It is interesting to note my reactions and the reactions of those around me. I felt quite relaxed and resigned, amused by the various announcements and by my mind’s grasping for some kind of certainty. I wasn’t really bothered that I would be delayed; I didn’t really mind what the outcome would be  – I just wanted to know enough to make a plan. This is my usual habitual pattern, that I am getting to know and love – smiling at it like an old friend. I am gradually learning to surrender to life rather than bracing myself for a fight against it. What a relief!

Sometimes I feel like I am clinging on to a cliff edge, with my fingernails – the cliff edge of control. Now more than anything I want to let go – to allow myself to fall into the unknown.

What’s the worst that can happen?

This time I might be a bit late – no big deal – but it’s good to practice with the small issues life throws at us – in preparation for the biggies, when they come along.

I was curious about the situation at the station. There were lots of people waiting for the train – I didn’t notice much anger amongst them, just resignation and a tendency to go to the phone to tell someone they were going to be late or to interrogate the train app!

It can be valuable to treat life like an ongoing adult education course, where we can be open and curious about all that happens, pleasant or unpleasant, notice our reactions or responses and gradually learn to be more present and more kind.

Our new free Mindfulness Based Living app (available at Google and Apple store) is a new resource to help us with this. We can now reach for the phone, ear plugs in for a three- minute breathing space when we don’t have much time, for a loving kindness practice when we are feeling irritated or for a RAIN practice when we feel stuck with a difficult emotion. We can use technology to support our practice, rather than to distract us.

Something to consider next time we are delayed!

So I hope you enjoy the app as much as I do.

Kind Wishes

Heather

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Constant Threat

I had an interesting insight in my practice, quite devastating. It was that I have been living in my threat system my whole life. My mind and body have been wired accordingly so that every change, every uncertainty is a potential threat. Most thoughts that are engaged set me into spirals of planning for future control and catastrophising all future possibilities so that I am prepared. This thinking primes my nervous system for fight or flight.

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This insight was helped along by an excellent movement practice led by Fay Adams at the weekend as part of the MSc: Studies in Mindfulness (click here for more details). The movement was based on the work of Steven Porges and his polyvagal theory, adapted into a movement practice by mindfulness teacher Alistair Appleton. It situates the fight response in the hands becoming fists and in tension in the arms, shoulders and jaw in preparation for a fight. I notice in my daily life experience a tendency for my hands to clench, a tendency for at least two of my teeth to be clenching together, teeth grinding in the night and for tension in my arms and shoulders- that are an inch higher up than they should be. I feel relief that I have made this connection, but also a deep sadness, like grief.

Flight is situated as tension and a readiness to run in the feet, inner thighs, hips & buttocks.  Freeze surfaces as a shutting down in the lower abdomen. I feel that I have these less – my mode seems to be fight, which certainly resonates.

Having this insight brings an opportunity for change: to consistently open and relax these parts of my body in yoga based movement and relaxation practices and in daily life. Yoga based breathing practices with an elongated out- breath, and alternate nostril breathing, all help. Meditation and compassion practice help, as do fairly high frequency melodic sighing, singing or chanting. As well as making sounds, these all require a lengthened out- breath.

Finally, smiling and connecting with friends and loved ones that help us to feel connected and safe, also helps.

So if you find yourself in high sympathetic nervous system arousal, temporarily or habitually, you now know what to do.

In my experience, this has all operated at a fairly subtle unseen level, presumably because it feels normal to me. Although I see some of the thought and thinking activity that triggers and maintains the threat system, I know that this is just the tip of the ice berg, as mostly the threat response is triggered and maintained within me without me being aware of the trigger. This is apparently normal, but I am still stuck with feeling the unpleasant physiological stress response. Thankfully, I have now recognised it for what it is.

If we manipulate our bodies as described above, this will feed signals back to the brain that are contrary to threat. This can then dampen the threat system down. So, there is something we can do. We can cultivate a physiological response of happiness and wellbeing, which hopefully will take root in the brain and then the mind. A bottom up response?

There is also the top down response of gradual mindful acceptance of uncertainty and a myriad of uncontrollable future possibilities. The RAIN practice can help here, which you can access via our new Mindfulness Based Living app, available in the Google Play and Apple stores – for free! Enjoy!

Rob Nairn often quotes Krisnamurti ‘The Seeing is the Doing’ – now I have seen, hopefully change will happen by itself. I am curious to see how this one unfolds – willing to keep my expectations at bay!

Kind Wishes

Heather

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Rob Nairn’s Insight Training

I have been working with Choden and Rob Nairn on a book, which is an experiential journey through the Mindfulness Association’s Insight Training, called Level 3: Seeing Deeply (click here for more information). We expect it to be published some time next year. Rob designed this training, and then others of us on the MA team have developed it over the last five years or so. It is a secular and experiential exploration of the activity that underlies our habitual patterns of thought and behaviour, that I believe is unique to the MA and to the MSc in Mindfulness on which the MA partners with the University of Aberdeen (click here for more information).

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However, our experience of teaching Insight tells us that a thorough training in Mindfulness and Compassion, founded on a regular and sustained daily practice are required in order to access the Insight training in an experiential way, rather than just intellectually. The intellect does not get us very far on this path. Embodied practice is key. This is why the Level 1: Being Present and Level 2: Responding with Compassion come before the Level 3: Seeing Deeply training.

In some ways, this is a shame, as it reduces the number of people who come on the Level 3 training, but it is worth persevering with Levels 1 and 2 (particularly as each are beneficial in their own right) as cultivating Insight is incredibly powerful. I might use the analogy of a gardener: Mindfulness practice might be likened to cutting the heads off the weeds, whereas Insight is like pulling the weed out at the root – so that it does not grow back.

I guess I was one of Rob’s first guinea pigs on the Insight training. I have assisted him many times over the years delivering different aspects of the training and have diligently practiced on the cushion and in daily life and can attest to its value. I think that the main benefit is, that even in the most difficult situations, fuelled by anger or pride, desire or jealousy, there is a part of me that can step back and knows that there is a story I have bought into or an expectation or assumption that I have projected onto the experience. I have a sense that, even if I can’t see it now, there is a different wider perspective, that will emerge on reflection. In this way, all difficulty becomes an opportunity for personal growth and there is joy in this sense of workability and hopefully I don’t take myself so seriously.

It is not an easy path and requires us to feel the pain that is at the root of our particular constellation of habitual patterns. However, it is well worth the journey, as I now suffer less and enjoy life more, even though the path appears to extend endlessly before me. One step at a time!

You will find some audio of Rob Nairn teaching Insight in South Africa on the resources page of the website (link) under ‘Audios’ ‘Level 3: Seeing Deeply’. Have a listen, they are a good taster. You can hear from the sounds in the background that we were in South Africa. And I am sat beside Rob as he teaches. Fond memories of happy days.

I hope you will join us some day on this Insight journey and move towards freedom from the habitual patterns that cause us to suffer.

Kind Wishes

Heather

Have a watch of Rob Nairn speaking of Thoughts, Thinking and The Moment of Engagement…Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel:

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The Power of Forgiveness

I had the good fortune to see my teacher Lama Yeshe Rinpoche this week and he emphasised the importance of forgiveness.

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There was a forgiveness exercise in the early Mindfulness courses we delivered, but it never made it to the current courses. I think it was quite a profound exercise, but painful to engage in sometimes. It involved writing a letter to a person we were resentful towards, offering forgiveness. We would then put ourself in the shoes of the other and write back to ourselves from their perspective. Letters would be written back and forth like this until all that needed to be said from both sides had been said – we never sent the letters!

This weekend I have been in Milan delivering a teaching skills weekend one (click here for more information on our Teacher Training Pathway) with my lovely friends Elena and Gaia. I had quite a lot of free time on Friday and during the weekend when Elena and Gaia were leading tutor groups and I spent this time reflecting on forgiveness.

In my loving kindness practice for quite a long time now, when it gets to the difficult person, typically one of five people comes up. So it seems I have harboured resentment towards these five for some time, with barely a good word to say about them and many bad words to speak about them to a sympathetic audience. Thankfully, this has softened recently and my strong aspiration not to speak badly of others is manifesting more and I am holding my tongue.

I was reflecting on the cause of my resentment towards these five and there seems to be two reasons – both based in fear.

The first is a fear of their suffering. Suffering I am familiar with and struggle with in my own life, but I imagine their suffering is much worse than mine and I don’t feel able to face it. This gives me great fear and I dislike them because of it. They are issues such as insecurity, not being good enough and profound childhood rejection. Clearly, this is my fear projected on to them and sometimes I act my dislike for them out.

The second is a fear of humiliation based on past experiences, when I have felt shame and humiliation which I blame on their actions. Again, this fear of humiliation is something I cannot face in myself and I act it out in my active dislike and resentment towards these others.

Hurt has been caused both ways and continues on.

Most of the time these five are oblivious of my bubbling resentment, but I am stuck with the fear and anger, my familiar stories, and so I suffer. In this way resentment is like eating poison myself and expecting the other person to die.

I want to stop eating poison.

This requires forgiveness – forgiving myself and forgiving the others – then there can be some freedom from resentment.

How do we practice forgiveness? I am certainly not up to addressing the five people as yet, and asking for their forgiveness, but I am bringing them to mind in my practice and dropping the phrases ‘May they forgive me’, May I forgive them’ and ‘May I forgive myself’ into the mind and allowing my experience to unfold. I am cultivating acceptance towards whatever arises and cultivating compassion towards that part of me that is fearful. Aspiring to be more curious than afraid. Courageous work which makes my heart feel tender. So I know that some magic is happening.

Maybe you also wish to be free of some resentment? You can join me in this practice, slowly and kindly moving towards what scares us. Good luck!

May the five become zero.

Kind Wishes

Heather

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Fear of the Unknown

I had a lovely retreat last week by the seaside, with mindfulness, yoga and some lovely walks along the beach.

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I always forget the calming power of yoga, which I do moving and breathing in time to Tibetan Buddhist chanting. The chatter of my mind falls away and there is just moving, breathing and hearing. I have been ending my sessions with yogic alternate nostril breathing which balances my nervous system beautifully. So my plan is to continue with this in my home practice in support of my busy life, which tends to encourage the chatter.

2017-10-17-PHOTO-00000822There was some sunshine to walk under and some wonderful stormy weather to shelter from in my cosy cottage. I reflected on how fortunate I was to have the time to walk and the soothing power of the rhythmic back and forth movements of walking. I was able to rest back in the body and just allow the mind to do it’s thing. When I got caught up in thinking, it was generally to do with future planning. I would acknowledge the planning and remind myself that this was not the time to be thinking about it by saying to myself – if its not happening now then there’s no need to think about it. Again, my plan is to do a few more longer walks with the dogs than usual, as it really helps me to let go of the issues that I am finding stressful and creates space for insights to arise.

I incorporated gratitude practice into my day by having the mindfulness bell on my phone (which was in flight mode – most of the time) go off randomly during the day. When it sounded, I would stop, feel my feet on the ground for a few breaths, spread my focus out to the body for a few breaths and then remind myself how fortunate I am in my life and reflect for a few moments on three things I appreciate in my life. This was a very nourishing practice, which will also be part of my daily life routine. 

I listened to some wonderful audio teachings from Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron 2017-10-17-PHOTO-00000823and Lama Yeshe Rinpoche. We are so lucky that so much teaching is available to us now in books and online.

Now the challenge is to keep this going in the midst of my busy life managing a business, running a house, being a mum and a wife and teaching. Again, I am well placed to do this as much of the time I am working from home and I have the flexibility to take time out for practice and for walking the dogs and those around me are very used to odd bells going off during the day.

The main recognition for me during the retreat was how fearful I was. I noticed a very strong desire to control the future and to plan to make sure things turn out in a predictable way. I felt my sense of self flailing about repeatedly for certainty, unable to tolerate uncertainty. Intellectually, I know that this is fruitless as there are so many causes and conditions beyond my control – after all, I cannot even control what thoughts arise within my own mind. Still it is a strong habit. As I face this desire for control, acknowledge it and recognise that it is not possible to know future outcomes, fear squirms in my stomach, my heart beats faster and, if I let it, planning thinking activity spirals out of control, imagining all the possible catastrophic outcomes and reassuring myself with plans to address them. It is not so much that I want things to turn out as I want them, the issue is I want to know the outcome now. Whether the outcome is good or bad is much less important. Once I know what is going to happen I can act. Waiting to know feels like a torture. 

I think that the worst thing about this fear is how it sets off and ravages my central nervous system, firing off hormones that have me in fight or flight mode on a continuous basis, which is exhausting. Time out on retreat, the yoga and walking help to bring my nervous system back into balance.

The insight comes in that it is not the outcome I am afraid of, it is the not knowing that terrifies me. So the task now is to relish the not knowing. I aim to be more curious than afraid. Now I have seen this habitual pattern – or re-seen it at a deeper level – it seems less powerful. It seems barmy to my rational mind that the problem is the not knowing rather than the outcome. It seems possible now to practice patience in the face of not knowing and to re-assure myself it is OK. 

I saw repeatedly on retreat how my planning, triggered the fight or flight response and made me suffer. I have a wonderful life, which I am not able to enjoy because I am worrying about the future. I would find myself walking on the beach in the sunshine, thinking about some future eventuality that would probably never happen and that made me scared. This is madness and I experienced it repeatedly. Again and again, I need to let go of the thinking activity and just be in the moment! When I do this the moments are generally awesome, even if they are sometimes painful or tedious. This is the gift of mindfulness. Duh!

I am very happy to have seen all of this. I think that the human condition is delightfully hilarious, if also painful. I take myself far too seriously. But I am not alone in this. So let’s all smile in the face of our self-created fear, soothe ourselves, become curious, and as best we can and carry on regardless.

Kind Wishes

Heather

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Retreat By The Sea

This week I have the amazing good fortune to be on retreat, with thanks to my husband and mother-in-law for the time. I have rented a cozy cottage by the beach on the Solway Firth. My husband dropped me off with my food for the week and I have the luxury of being here alone and silent!

My intention is to be present, accepting of whatever arises in my experience and compassionate towards the one who experiences. My motivation is to rest after a busy summer, recharge my soothing system and boost my joy levels so that I am able to skilfully do that which needs to be done, facilitate and support my fellow practitioners and go on loving my way through my life.

Caerlaverock-01.jpgI have some of Pema Chodron’s Tonglen teachings to read and to listen to and I have a daily practice schedule including sitting, yoga based Mindful movement and Tonglen. A daily body scan (nap!) after lunch and a couple of hours in the afternoon to write – hence this blog. Early nights and early mornings. No other entertainment, except a long daily walk along the beach and cooking (and then eating) plant based whole vegan food from scratch! Heaven!

Time to discover again that the only thing that matters in my life is what I do (or more importantly don’t do) in this moment.

The musings on my walk this morning were around how to make my day to day life more retreat like. Let’s see how I get on, but that’s for later when I get home.

Do you have a free day, or a free morning, afternoon or evening this week? If so, why not join me in solitary silent retreat. Schedule some practice, walking and mindful cooking or whatever it is that you need to nourish yourself this week.

Kind Wishes

Heather

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