Do you meditate? What’s meant to happen, and how do you do it? -These are three questions I’m asked a lot.
Of course I meditate, every day (you’d be disappointed if I said I didn’t right?) When you meditate you have the opportunity to access a very relaxed state. Your cortisol levels drop and you reorganise your nervous system. I meditate daily because there isn’t really a day in my life where I’d like my cortisol levels to be high?!
So how do I do it? I’ve learned to see everything is an invitation to meditate! From watching the kettle boil, to tying my shoe laces. Do you remember how much focus it took as a child to learn how to tie them? Now we just do them without any thought. Notice and pay attention to putting your shoes on.
Learning to meditate is like any other training, it takes time, and it’s important to build up. You wouldn’t go to the gym 7 days a week and pick up all the heaviest things you can find, because you’ll over train, it’s unsustainable and exhausting. It’s the same with meditation. Decide to meditate for a few minutes once or twice a week and build up from there. The ego will resist meditation, but, it’s said that whatever the ego resists is exactly what you need. The more you make meditation a daily habit, the weaker the ego’s resistance becomes.
Walk With Me is a wonderful film about the Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic community. ‘Slow down and breathe’ is an instruction we can all aspire to follow. That is a meditation practice. It’s not about lighting candles, finding an entirely silent space to clear the mind, it’s about working with what we have. We’re all busy, over worked and under rested, so rather than attempt to create new habits which (20 minutes a day before work) which set us up to fail, just slow down and breathe.
Even injuries are a chance to meditate, we have to modify postures, learn new movement patterns and be more present to what’s happening in the body. You might find while you practice yoga with an injury, you silently pray. ‘Prayer’ can be anything from an offering to a higher power to ‘I wish my back didn’t hurt.’
I was teaching on a retreat recently in the heart of East Sussex Countryside, picture the scene, I’d just guided students through a Yoga Nidra practice. If you’re not familiar with Yoga Nidra, it’s a lovely long guided meditation. The aim is not to fall asleep, but we pretty much always fall asleep. So there we were, all very relaxed after the practice, heading off to bed in silence… As we were walking to our rooms an alarm went off at a farm house nearby. My first thought was ‘damn that’s disappointing’ the alarm stopped then came back on two more times before the peaceful silence that you get from being in the countryside returned.
I was disappointed because so much thought had gone into the session, and the sound of an alarm wasn’t the experience I wanted my students to have! -But there wasn’t much I could do to change that.
As I walked to the Yoga Barn for our morning practice the next day I chatted to the retreat owners, who apologised for the alarm and explained it was a bat! A bat had triggered the alarm, hence it was intermittent, it flew back a few times. When I shared the story with my students in practice it was lovely to see their experience of the alarm sound change to something positive. It wasn’t half as irritating any more! In fact, on the second night some students listened out hopeful that the alarm would go off again as it meant the bat was around! That bat taught us a new meditation; we slowed our breathing and listened out carefully to the alarm which, on the second night never came. A living example of ‘don’t hate, meditate.’
Retreats are wonderful opportunities to get away from daily pressures, we literally retreat! The Art of Meditation (a reference to a special series of workshops I'm offering) is when we bring it into our day to day life. Lin Chi was a Chinese master who taught directly and simply ‘when you walk, just walk. When you sit, just sit. Just be your ordinary, natural self in ordinary life.’ It really is that simple.
So now you’re excited to start your training, there are plenty of helpful apps and my free Podcast that can get you started with a meditation practice, or you can freestyle, make up your own meditation practice:
Washing Up. We spend a lot of time washing up, so why not create this as a meditation aid. Plant your feet evenly on the earth as you stand by the sink, feel the temperature of the water against your skin, the scent of the washing up liquid you’re using, the sound of putting the plate on the draining board and the pause before the next item.
That one’s not always popular so you could also try: Moving Meditation, walking with no where to go. Literally go for a wander.
Sound Meditation, find a piece of music you like and really listen to it, don’t multi task, actually listen to the music, or a natural soundtrack of birds/ street noises.
‘Catitation’ sit with a pet (I have cats but Dogitation works just as well) and stroke the animal, follow your hand as it sweeps over their fur. Watch, listen and feel their reaction. When you’re ready to leave your mediation, notice how you feel.
There's still time to join me in East Sussex 12-14th October for my final weekend retreat of 2018, and to see if the bat is there to give us more lessons!
Or join my very special workshops in Hove. All about the art of attention and meditation. Please email me for full details