Thursday, 18 August 2016

‘So am I at ease right now!’

Sometimes after a good massage/Shiatsu one can feel quite euphoric. 
This state can feel alien or other worldly, it can seem like something has been added or changed. . But I would suggest that what we are experience in these moments is a (our) natural state; just free of pain, stress, worry etc. It’s the absence of something rather than an addition 

We can layer lots of levels of discomfort onto ourselves and do so most days. Life seems to have a way of doing it. Physical pain, discomfort, unease, little niggles, rubbing, chaffing, pinching, pulling. Emotional pain, discomfort, anger, pulling away, irritation, wanting, desire,  
Some of these are quite big and we might need help to deal with, but others we can tackle ourselves. It can be about making simple little choices; How we sit, what shoes we wear, which clothes we put on, where we put our attention, what bag we use, they are small things that can contribute either to a sense of unease or ease. The trick is to keep making the more skilful choices, over and over again. 

A trick to make this possible is to keep a bit for awareness in reserve for  our body as often as we can. So in any given situation we can ask, am I at ease now? If the answer is ‘I don’t know’, then you can ask a purely physical question. Is my body at ease now? 

If the answer is no, then do the thing that makes you at ease; shift your position, change the shoes, go for a different bag, take a break, walk away, pause the conversation, stand up on the bus, sit on the floor not the sofa, really listen to the other person, change your underwear, take a deep breath. Just do the little things that increase a feeling of ease.

Over time the results can be really radical, but start small and practice, regularly 

‘So am I at ease right now!’ 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Attention and where we put it.

We often have a tendency to not be aware of where we place our attention. It goes to the area with the most stimulus, the one that's drawing our attention most strongly at the time. Sometimes this is a good thing that needs to happen (responding to that fire alarm) sometimes, not so good.

In fact many people do not realise that they can decide, or at least influence, where they place their attention. 

Developing an awareness that we can choose to place our attention on given objects is a powerful thing. It allows us to direct our thoughts and perceptions in a way that we choose rather than where stimulus takes us. 

It can be easier to focus our attention if we are very interested in the subject, a craft we love, a piece of art work we really admire, a great book, someone we are in love with. Are all relatively easy things to be attentive to. 

I always remember focusing on my father slurping his cereal in the morning. I can become obsessed with people's leaking earphones on the train. I can focus on the negative comments or feedback I get rather than the positive.
In this way we can focus on what is in reality often a small amount of information, and by doing so ignore the majority of the available information. In the process often reinforcing less skilful or negative ways of viewing our daily world. This can result in a feeling of the world being more negative than it actually is, a real shame. This can have a result of increasing our level of stress and anxiety. 

Until we learn to direct our attention; where it goes, is where it's gone before, in effect old habits.

So how do we start to be aware of and move where we place our attention. 
Well I would suggest starting with the body.
An awareness of how our body feels, how our posture is; are we holding tension? Is a practical way of remembering to check in with where our attention is. I have noticed that if I become aware of slumping, I can then see that I have lost mental awareness. If I correct my spine then my awareness increases without having to 'make it'. If I notice that I have a tight jaw, I also notice that I'm often having negative thoughts. 

We can play with attention exercises. Say for the day we will; notice every time we see the colour blue, notice every time we have a judgmental thought, notice ever time we are offered service. 
If you have a mind that's been allowed to wonder where it wants for years, maybe decades, then it takes time and practice to 'behave' and go where you want it to. However the results of working on this can be interesting, and in some cases life changing. 

If you are interested in taking this deeper, I would recommend the courses held by the Todo institute.

The books of David K Reynolds are also good places to start 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Ping ping ping

Someone I know recently lost their phone. Aside from the very real problems with having no ones numbers and not being contactable her comments on the effects were really interesting. 

She realised how many times a day she, 'checked' her phone. 

I think if you are one of the majority of folks who have a smartphone you might recognise this. Or you might not, or you might have an idea but maybe your not aware of quit how often you do it. 

Most of us now have; email, text, whatsapp, Facebook and many more apps on our phone. Most of us have an alert to tell us when we get 'events' from these apps, a ping, a vibration or maybe both. But most of us will be in the habit of checking the phone to see if we have received any communication. 

As Sandi Toksvig said; it's like having a working doorbell but repeatedly going to the front door 'just in case'. 

You can make an argument that we are here becourse our ancestors were vigilant. They avoided danger long enough to breed. Vigilance seems to be a learned part of our make up. And if you have ever driven a car or walked late at night through a dodge area you know it's still often needed.
But think about how you feel during these times. After a long drive one is normally shattered. The same after that really important meeting etc. 
It's to do with the difference between the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems, but I'll go into that in another post. 

Being constantly vigilant is really damaging to our health. 
Our lives are full of situations that make us vigilant or stressed, a lot of them we may not be able to easily avoid. But maybe how we relate to our smartphones and computers is a good place to start. 

When you become aware of the itch to look at your phone, maybe take a good moment, a deep breath in and out and see if you really need to. Try it for a week or two and see how you feel. Can you turn down the vigilance dial a bit. You might find you; sleep better, feel better, talk to loved ones more, digest your food better, see that tree in blossom.........

Thursday, 14 April 2016

What do we pay attention to and what do we choose to ignore?

Those who are enlightened about delusion are buddhas. Those who are deluded about enlightenment are ordinary beings.
~Dogen (Shobogenzo, Genjokoan)

Some time ago I was sitting on a bench and took a picture of the sun coming through the foliage. Im sitting on the same bench as I type this now. 

The scene below is what is on the ground. Did I not see it, did I ignore it, or did I not want to share it with the world?  

And maybe more interestingly what aspects of myself is the ground, that I don't see or maybe glimpse and don't want to share, my delusions? 

Tuesday, 5 January 2016


I was shown the Ladybird Mindfulness book a few days ago. The person who showed me it sat back (well they may have actually been standing but you know what I mean) and waited  
Now I don't behave in what many people see as the typical Buddhist way, in fact most of the Buddhists I know don't. I get cross, I swear (sometimes) and I express strong opinions (lots). I think she had lit the blue touch paper and was waiting to see what would happen

But on this occasion I was just sad, I was sad because I saw the book as a mild piss take of an aspect of Buddhist thought that I hold very dear, that of Right Mindfulness 

I have had many chats to quite a few people over the last few years as the Mindfulness craze took off. 
My thoughts have always been that practising mindfulness within the specific context that it arose (alongside the other 7 aspects of The Eightfold Path) is wonderful. But that if you have to take this one aspect and use that, its better than doing many other things, but not ideal and not 'the real deal'. 

I feared that the popularisation of  Mindfulness could also lead to its downfall. We (humans) seem to have a habit of half understanding something, half giving it a go and then trashing it when it does not give us the instant results we were sold. I use the word sold deliberately in this context as one can buy Mindfulness (books, DVD's, Courses etc.) 

The book is supposed to be light-hearted and I suppose it is, but it deals with something that I think is a crucial practice for so many people, poking fun at it, is I fear part of discrediting it.

Mindfulness has been commercialised at a shocking rate and been pounced on by lots of folks who want to make money from the craze. I fear that its a result of taking something out of context, but as most people mistakenly think that Mindfulness is Buddhist practice I feel its a great shame