Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Mindfulness

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  



Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Speech


For me Donald Trump has brought to mind an important idea in Buddhism; 'Right Speech'.
It's one of the Noble Eightfold Path and is often contained in the precepts that one can take. 

People brought up in theistic societies have to be a little careful when they approach Buddhist ideas of 'Right' or precepts as they (we) tend to jump to commandments (thow shalt not). They are not commandments, they are nearer to suggestions. The reason for the difference would take ages to explain, just go with it. 

So if we accept that they are suggestions what's to stop us breaking them? 

Well let's look at Right Speach. It's broken down in lots of different ways depending on the Budhist tradition and ones teacher. But a common idea is speaking in a way that promotes harmony and does not promote discord. 

If we go back to why we should follow them and what's to stop us breaking them. We can clearly see what happens when we don't follow Right Speech. Things go wrong, people get upset, things get said back, arguments start, fights break out, wars happen. It's as plain as the nose on your face. 

But like the nose on your face it can be hard to spot. The temptation to say something (which we know won't help) is often so strong. Or we loose sight of our self and say things before we realise. It's not until we get the feedback (a cross look, a punch in the face) that we think, ah maybe that was not Right Speech. The Buddhist approach to realising that we have lost right speech is to just go back to the desire and commitment to keeping right speech. 

But rather than waiting for external feedback we can use or bodies to self monitor. Wrong speech feels wrong.  There is a change in our bodies before and during 'wrong' speech. It's probably different for others but for me; my chest and stomach tighten, my mind freezes a little, my breathing changes, I feel my body getting tight or hard...... There are clear signs that things are changing and not for the better. If I notice in time I can not say what I was about to, if I'm a little slow I can stop saying what I'm saying and if I'm very slow I can start apologising earlier! 

In the Buddhist tradition I'm part of, Right Speech comes before (this is way simplified) Right Thought and Right Mindfullness. One may have difficulties thinking right thoughts but no one knows; until they become Wrong Speech or Wrong Action. One has to do Wrong or better Right Speach and the doing gives a little more time to be aware

Having the awareness takes dedicated practice, being aware is not something one just gets, then it's there forever.  One has to be vigilant all the time.  But the alternative is really not good as Donald has demonstrated so well. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Deeper not new


I think maybe we live in a culture that highlights the new. That celebrates and extolles new experience and new stuff. Going on holiday to a new location, a new eating place, a new film, the new fashion, the new laptop/phone and on and on.......

We can sometimes bring this attitude to mindfulness and body work without really being awake to it. 

I feel that whilst new stimuluse and new stuff have their place. Some of the deepest and most profound work is with the familiar, with the ordinary. Re connecting again and again allows us to go deeper into areas that often benefit us the most. 

So when I'm craving new experiences or new stuff I try to focus into where the desire comes from. It's often from a maybe less skilful place. I'm trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings or situations. 

Old well worn situations can allow us to go deeper. We don't generally look for new ways to love our parents, our partner, our children (if we have them) but we can look to find ways to love them more fully or deeper. 

No conclusion just some thoughts. 

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Grasping with the eyes

Grasping with the eyes

I believe that it was a shared idea in many different cultures that the process of seeing was one of grasping. That the eyes would reach out and grasp what they were seeing. 

Of course this is not the modern way of thinking;  we now have the idea that the eyes are simple receptors and take in whatever they see in a neutral way. That light travels from the world and hits the back of the eyes. 

The idea that the eyes reach out and grasp seems odd, old fashioned, when coming across the idea its easy to think of those simple pre-science folks, did they know nothing?

On the bus the other day I became aware of my eyes grasping, I was actively looking, reaching out, searching. It felt exactly like my eyes were indeed grasping. 

So is what previous thinkers were reflecting on, the feeling of the process of seeing, did they really not understand or did they see the bigger picture? 

I realised that I was compulsively seeking out things to see, I suppose I was looking for stimulus. It was an urgent and compulsive feeling. There seemed to be a strong desire for stimulus but also a feeling of not wanting to miss out. 

I realised that it was taking quite a lot of energy to do all this grasping. It was also making my mind quite agitated 

So I thought I’d stop, after all I’d become aware of the feeling/action/behaviour and normally when I become aware of a mental process I can change it quite well (if only for a short time)

And I found it really difficult. I tried lowering my eyes, I tried not lowering my eyes but not grasping, I tried softening my eyes and just allowing what came to come. It was really difficult. 

So no conclusion, I just thought I would share and let you into what goes through my mind on the bus sometimes 






Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tech Neck


We seem to be running an experiment on ourselves as a society. The unprecedented use of 'smart' phones is putting us into compromised body positions for prolonged periods of time.

I'm sure you have seen it in others, you may not have felt it in yourself. Head jutting forward, shoulders and upper back rounded forward and inwards 





The nearest pre smartphone position I can think of is the classic prayer position, but actually this is very stable in comparison. 



Smartphones seem to have a way of dragging us in that not only prolongs their use (the stats on the amount of use my young people is terrifying) but has us holding a posture that is causing discomfort or pain whilst making no attempt to change it. We seem to be almost trying to dive into the devise, whilst loosing our body awareness.  

There is lots of speculation about the effects of this posture over the long term, but as I said, its an experiment so we can't be sure. In the short term the effects are dramatic, shoulder, neck and back pain, dowagers hump and postural Kyphosis for starters.

So what's to be done; firstly try to be more aware of doing the damage, keep a bit of yourself back to be aware of how you are feeling in your body. Listen to the messages that are coming to you from your body, its easy to think, just one more game/look at Facebook/blog post and then I'll move, you then find you have been it 'that' position for an hour. 

Once the damage has been done; Get a regular Shiatsu treatment from me; but also move the body in the opposite directions, often. A structured approach can be found here, by Ekhart Yoga. You could hang from a door frame, stretch upward and back or downward dog are all good... this one below was shown to me by my friend Mick, hold the chest on the sternum and tilt the head back; this stretches the SCM (which tend to shorten with Tech Neck) and feels lovely