calmness

Calmness as a revolutionary act

Extract from  "Reasons to Stay Alive" by Matt Haig.

I came across this extract from “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig this morning. I thought it was worth sharing:

The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an antiaging moisturizer? You make someone worry about aging. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind.

To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own nonupgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.

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Four cast-iron benefits of mindfulness

Many thousands of studies demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness have now been published, to the point where mindfulness can almost seem like a miracle cure. The problem is that not all of these studies were conducted well enough to be taken seriously.

Daniel Goleman (author of “Emotional Intelligence”) and University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson combed through thousands of studies and found that only one percent of them match the current gold standards for medical research. While we could rightly despair at the poor methodology of the 99 percent, we could instead focus on the four strongly confirmed findings that Goleman and Davidson have identified in the studies conducted using the soundest protocols.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review Goleman outlined those four confirmed benefits, which are: stronger focus, staying calmer under stress, better memory, and kindness. No doubt because he was writing for HBR, Goleman wrote about mindfulness mainly in terms of a tool for creating better workers for corporations — for example parsing kindness as “good corporate citizenship.” So I’d like to take those four benefits and write about them in a less corporate way, looking at how they can benefit us spiritually.

Stronger focus

People who practice mindfulness regularly experience less mind-wandering and distractibility.

Why is this important, and how can it benefit you? Mindfulness improves our filters. It helps us to identify when the mind is wandering in ways that are unhelpful for us, and to bring our attention back to our present-moment experience. Much of the time when the mind is wandering it’s engaged in what the Buddhist meditation tradition calls the “five hindrances” — craving, getting angry, worrying, low energy states of avoidance, and doubting. These hindrances diminish our sense of well-being and cause toxic effects in our interpersonal relationships and in our lives generally.

Reduced mind-wandering goes hand-in-hand with improved executive function, or self-control. Neurologically, what is happening is that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is learning to regulate and damp down activity in the amygdala, which triggers disruptive emotions like anger or anxiety. When we are mindful it’s easier for us to avoid things like addictive activities and needless conflict because we’re able to monitor the mind, spot the early stages of these activities beginning to kick in, and choose other ways of being.

Mindfulness, in other words, gives us greater mental freedom, which in turn brings us greater happiness and more harmony in our lives.

Staying calmer under stress

Since the prefrontal cortex regulates the amygdala more effectively when we’re mindful, mindfulness reduces stress.

This tends to make for better decision-making. When the amygdala is firing strongly it suppresses activity in the prefrontal cortex, which means that we don’t think clearly and make bad decisions. We might, for example, feel panicky about opening bills, stash them out of sight, and thereby increase the number of problems we have. Mindfulness helps us to think more clearly.

Mindfulness also improves our inter-personal relationships. When the amygdala is over-active, it’s constantly looking for potential threats, for example by worrying that someone doesn’t like us or is intending to insult us. Rather than waste energy reacting to “threats” that may not even exist we can just get on with building productive, sustaining, and nourishing connections with others.

This in turn leads to us having a better support network, so that we’re better able to deal with other stresses in our lives.

Better memory

Those who practice mindfulness show a stronger short-term memory (or working memory). For example, the graduate school entrance exams of college students who were taught to be more mindful scores showed increases of 16 percent.

The purpose of working memory is to keep relevant information in conscious awareness while it’s needed. The better our working memory, the more information can be stored there without data loss. On a very practical level, with a poor working memory it’s hard to remember a seven digit phone number long enough to dial it — intrusive thoughts or the inability to screen out other information disrupt our ability to keep the number in mind. Things like performing mental arithmetic depend highly on working memory as well, which partly explains the 16 percent boost that mindful students saw on their Graduate Record Exam scores.

But the benefits of better working memory are more profound than that. An improved working memory allows us to keep ethical principles and guidelines in mind as we go about life. Often the problem with being mindful or kind is that we just forget. So we might have an intention to be less reactive with our spouse, children, or colleagues, but find that this intention fades from the mind in the midst of our interactions. This is a failure of memory, and comes about because we’re not able to consciously keep our long-term goals in mind (such as “be more kind”) while attending to short-term ones, such as responding to what someone just said.

When we’re working on becoming better people — kinder, more compassionate, more honest, more courageous — we need to be able to keep those long-term aims in mind. This is what Buddhist psychology calls “sampajañña” — or continuity of purpose. Long-term change is difficult without this quality.

Kindness

Goleman presents this in terms of mindful people making “good corporate citizens,” which is an angle that I find rather jarring — as if the point of mindfulness practice is to fit in so that we can make more money for corporations.

He does also point out that mindfulness practice leads to “more activity in brain circuits for caring, increased generosity, and a greater likelihood of helping someone in need.”

In other words, mindfulness makes us kinder and more compassionate. This has benefits that go well beyond making more money for businesses. It creates more harmonious families and communities, and helps people who are struggling. In short, mindfulness can help us create a better world — something that’s desperately needed in these challenging times.

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The body-wide wave of breathing

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

When I’m teaching a refresher course on meditation, I’ll often ask people first of all just to meditate for a few minutes to arrive, paying attention to the breathing as they normally do. After letting them settle in to their meditation practice for a few minutes I’ll ask that they take one hand and — as they continue to pay attention to the breathing — “draw” in the air over the body the outline of whatever it is they identify as “the breathing.” You might want to try that right now, before reading further.

I wonder what kind of shape you drew on the body, and where? Most people end up inscribing a very small area. Sometimes they show that they are paying attention to a column of air moving up and down their airways. Most often they draw a small oval, perhaps the size of an open hand, in the center of their chest.

It seems that many people, when they hear the suggestion to observe “the breathing,” take this as a suggestion to observe “the breath.” But the breathing and the breath are two very different things. The breath is air (or the sensation of air) flowing in and out of the body. The breathing is all and any sensation connected, however indirectly, with the process of air flowing in and out of the body. This potentially includes sensations from the whole body, since indirect sensations connected with the process of breathing can be experienced even in the hands and feet. But it at least involves the whole of the trunk of the body: the front, sides, and back of the chest and abdomen, sensations on the skin that covers those parts of the body, the shoulders, the spine — and of course air flowing through our airways.

When we’re paying attention to the breathing in this more expensive way, the practice becomes much more interesting. Focusing on just a small area of the breathing just doesn’t give the mind enough to do, and because the mind doesn’t like being under-occupied it invents distractions for itself. When we pay attention to many different sensations the mind has plenty to do, is less likely to go wandering, and is more engaged and absorbed.

This absorption can go even deeper than simply noticing lots of different sensations. Once we open ourselves to noticing sensations of breathing over the entire body (or at least a large part of the body) we can notice how those sensations are connected with each other and move together.

After all, the breathing is one process. No matter which sensations we observe, they’re all part of a single wave of movement driven by the movements of the diaphragm. Air flowing in and out of the nostrils, the rise and fall of the shoulders, the ever-changing pattern of sensation where our clothing moves over our skin, the movements in the spine, and of course the movements of the rib cage and of muscles in the abdomen — all of these are part of a wave of sensation, surging back and forth through our entire being.

Paying attention to the breathing as a body-wide, dynamic, rhythmic flow is far more engaging than observing just one small area of the breathing, and even more fascinating than observing several sensations at the same time. It brings about a deep level of absorption in which we can be content, calm, and fully engaged with our sensory experience.

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Relearning the art of stillness

still lake scene

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is doing well. At the time of writing, with 23 days left to go we’re already 51% funded. The graphic below will give you a live update.

What’s it about? Glad you asked! To keep things simple, I’ve included below some information we sent out to our 17,652 subscribers in a special newsletter today. Please do read this important message!

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Last week we launched a crowdfunding effort to help us bring you four highly effective meditations Bodhipaksa has developed over the years. What we’re suggesting is essentially that you buy our forthcoming CD (or the MP3 version of it), in advance, to help us cover the production costs. (Although there are other donation options as well.)

In Case You’re Not Sure, This Is What We Do

We do a lot. More than 1.5 million people visit our site each year. Our most popular web page (not counting the home page) has been read more than half a million times. Our most popular blog post has been read by more than three hundred thousand people. Hundreds of thousands of people have learned to meditate with us — for free. We also publish guided meditation CDs, which help fund our activities, and those have also reached hundreds of thousands of people.

And here’s how your support helps. The more CDs we publish, the more financially stable we are, the less time we have to spend worrying about money, and the more we’re able to provide resources to help you become happier in your life!

About the Meditations On This Album

These meditations have been road-tested with many, many people, who have found them to be powerfully transformative. Both those who have used them for their first ever meditation and those who have been meditating for years have expressed surprise and gratitude. Here are some comments we’ve received.

Kate, in Maine
That was astonishing. As a high-anxiety person, I stumbled on this while seeking help in focusing on tasks. Wow. I feel so peaceful and yet ready to tackle the tasks awaiting my attention. Thank you!

jennifer, coloradoJennifer, Colorado
This is a favorite. Bodhipaksa’s voice is very calming. I can definitely feel a positive difference in my body when I open up my awareness as suggested in this meditation.

care, seattleCare, Seattle
Wow. This way of becoming present was new to me. It helped lift the weight from my heart. Thanks!

ryan, floridaRyan, Florida
Excellent. I’ve had trouble calming my thoughts while attempting meditation. When it was mentioned during this session I was surprised that my mind was already calm.

gina, floridaGina, Florida
Very calming and effective in such a short amount of time.                     
        

Over his decades of teaching, Bodhipaksa has developed many different techniques that very rapidly and easily calm the mind, reducing the amount of intrusive thinking and creating a sense of peace and spaciousness. When we started to list all of these methods, we found there were almost 20! So we’re actually going to be bringing out a series of CDs (and MP3s, of course). Our next album, Guided Meditations for Inner Peace, is just the first. That’s what we’re raising funds for.

About Our Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding helps dreams become real. It helps creators share their vision with the public, who in turn can offer support, usually receiving “perks” in return. In our case the perks we offer include early access to these guided meditations (and optionally to alternate versions of them). Whatever level of contribution you choose, and whichever perk you select, if any, you’ll experience the good karma and warm glow that comes from supporting an organization that does a lot of good in the world.

We do hope you’ll support us, both by becoming a donor and by sharing our project with your friends and social media contacts. You can check out and support the Creating Inner Peace project at our Indiegogo page.

Thank you!
Mark, Mary, and Bodhipaksa at Wildmind

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Create inner peace!

“Just as the ocean may be turbulent above, but is always still in its depths, so beneath the surface noise of our thoughts there is always available a deep reserve of calm and tranquillity.” Bodhipaksa

Over my years of teaching and almost 35 years of practice, I’ve evolved a number of very effective meditation techniques for calming the mind. This album of four guided meditations (in CD and MP3 formats) contains the best tools I know of for creating inner peace.

To help us bring these teachings to the world, we’re asking that you help sponsor their production by purchasing the CD (or MP3s) in advance. Or you can simply make a donation. Head over to our Indiegogo page to support this effort!

These four meditations, born from over 30 years of practice and exploration, offer highly effective techniques for slowing down the mind, creating calmness, and bringing into being a more authentic, calm, and positive approach to living. We plan to publish them as “Guided Meditations for Inner Peace.”

Research shows that on average we’re caught up in distracted thinking 48 percent of the time, and often much more than that. Research also shows that our distracted thinking causes unhappiness. These distractions are often driven by anxiety, irritability, and self-doubt, which undermine our well-being and lead to stress and depression.

Mindful attention, on the other hand, brings freedom from the tyranny of compulsive thinking and allows us to have a deeper, richer, and more joyful experience of life.

You can purchase the album (plus or minus some enhancements!) in advance, or make a donation, if you wish. Plus we have some other great perks! Click here to check our our Indiegogo crowdfunding page!

Also do watch our video, “Create Inner Peace.”

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The most important thing right now, is right now

tree blossoms

The problem with distractions is that they’re compelling. They make us think that they’re important. They draw us into their stories. It’s as if they’re saying, “This is what you need to be thinking about right now.”

And so, over and over, we end up immersed in stories driven by anxiety, anger, desire, and self-doubt.

These distractions come from relatively primitive parts of our programming, which evolved as protective mechanisms. As mammals who suffered from predation, we needed to be anxious and alert for potential physical threats to our wellbeing. When such threats became actual—a stranger approaching our camp, for example—we might respond with displays of anger in order to invoke respect or fear in the other party. Living in an environment where resources were scarce, our sensory desires motivated us to seek and hold on to food and other essentials. Self-doubt promoted caution, so that we didn’t recklessly put ourselves in danger, and also helped us fit into a hierarchical social group where not everyone could be the leader.

Although we still do face threats, uncertainties, scarcity, and so on, for the most part the kinds of mental states I’ve been describing don’t really help us in modern life. In fact they hinder us in many ways, and rather than protect us they mostly cause us to suffer. The circuitry in our brains connected with these states is still there and keeps looking for things to get anxious, angry, greedy, or doubtful about. Sometimes that circuitry gets out of control and has a destructive effect on our lives, as with stress, social anxiety, and depression.

Even outside of pathological conditions, though, these mental states diminish our wellbeing. We’re always happier when we’re mindfully attentive to whatever we’re doing, even if it’s just our breathing, than when the mind is off wandering.

The thing, then, is how do we convince ourselves that our distractions are not actually important for our happiness, and that mindfulness is what’s truly important?

The Buddhist tradition offers lots of ways to do this, including reflecting on the drawbacks of our distractions (“Anxiety doesn’t solve my problems, it just makes it harder to tackle them”). But one of my favorite approaches is to drop in a gentle reminder that it’s valuable to disengage from distracted thinking—that it’s important to be mindful.

In the past I’ve used the phrase “But right now … right now.” I’ve also used “It can wait.” I’ve found them both to be very useful.

My current phrase is, “The most important thing right now, is right now.” This is a simple reminder of priorities. In a sense there’s nothing “wrong” with anxiety, doubt, and so on. Having those things show up isn’t a sign of failure. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad person. They’re simply part of your old programming, and tend not to make you happy or bring you a sense of contentment. Instead, they stir us up emotionally and create worlds of pain. What is a higher priority, what is important for us to do, is to be mindful of our present-moment experience.

The second “right now” in “The most important thing right now, is right now” is pointing to everything that’s arising in our direct sensory experience. Sounds, light, the body, our feelings are all arising right now. Paying attention to those in a mindful way allows the mind to calm, our body to let go of tensions, and our emotions to come to rest in a sense of contentment, or even joy.

This “mantra” suggests exploration. What is “right now?” That’s for us to find out, through mindful exploration.

So as you find yourself coming out of a period of distracted thinking in your meditation, and re-emerging in a more mindful state, try dropping in the phrase “The most important thing right now, is right now,” and let it direct your attention to what’s truly important, which is your immediate sensory reality.

One student, Zia, wrote to me to let me know how the words had changed as she practiced with them:

Over several days, the reminder “The most important thing right now, is right now” has morphed in my mind into “All that matters right now is right now”. At some times, it further morphs into “ALL that matters right now is right now”. The capital “ALL” brings more of a sense of the vastness, the divinity, that is contained in the present moment and that becomes more accessible through attention.

This is a beautiful reminder that we can treat phrases like these as living things that you’re inviting to share your life, rather than objects that you keep around. Let them adapt, grow, and evolve.

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The best way to calm your thoughts is to give them plenty of space

wheel of life hub

The ancient Romans had a special punishment for those guilty of parricide, which involved sewing the guilty party into a leather sack and tossing him into a river or the ocean. This, according to Cicero, symbolized how the heinousness of the offender’s crime sundered him from the realm of natural law.

This punishment evolved over time, with the addition to the sack of animals such as a viper and a dog. Eventually four animals were used, and this became the classical form of this punishment, which was known as the poena cullei.

It’s hard to imagine how horrible this would have been. Suffocating would be awful enough, but throughout the ordeal you’d have two terrified animals working themselves into a panicked rage as they clawed and bit each other, as well as you.

This image came to mind last week when I was at a meditation class and people were talking about trying to manage the restless thoughts that intruded into the meditation practice. People mentioned various ways that they try to calm their thoughts, such setting an intention to stay focused on the breathing. But it struck me that this is a bit like trying to calm down a dog and snake that are tied in a sack with you.

It’s difficult to calm your thoughts when you feel trapped with them in what feels like a confined space.

What I find works best for calming thoughts is to develop a sense of spaciousness. This is akin to opening the sack and setting the dog, the snake, and yourself free in a large meadow. You’re all still together. But there’s less pressure, less fear, and therefore more calmness and ease.

What does this mean, to develop a sense of spaciousness?

Although beginners to meditation often think about noises as being distractions, these sounds are simply sensations that we can be mindful of. In other words, rather than being distractions from meditation, sounds are opportunities to practice meditation.

So, right now, try being aware of the sounds around you. (You might want to close your eyes.)

As you pay attention mindfully to these sounds, notice how they are inherently spacious. The sounds you hear may come from several yards away, or even from miles away. This is a much larger space than the tiny “leather sack” of your head, where you may often feel you are suffocating with your thoughts.

As you’re mindfully paying attention to the sound and space surrounding you, notice what’s been happening with your thoughts. They will probably still be there, but it’s likely that they’re no longer bothering you. The snake and dog of your thoughts are off doing their respective things, and aren’t causing a disturbance.

Now, let your attention narrow again until it’s inside your skull, and you’re focusing on your thoughts. How does this feel? Does it feel constricted, tight, and unpleasant?

Broaden your awareness to the sound and space around you once again, and notice how that feels. Perhaps it’s more relaxed, calm, and easeful?

Try alternating in this way a few more times, to reinforce the fact that whether you let your awareness be expansive or contacted is a choice. Also, you can reinforce that an expansive and calm awareness, even if it’s unfamiliar to you, is someplace you can feel at home.

Trying to negotiate with our thoughts can sometimes work, but often it’s as futile as trying to calm trapped and panicky animals. It’s better broaden your attention—to open up the leather sack—and to let your thoughts exist in a spacious field of awareness, where they will naturally and spontaneously find peace and calm.

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Mindful leaders are effective leaders

walking buddha

In June, the Director of the National Centre for Strategic Leadership, Nigel Girling, will be running a free webinar raising awareness about and talking through some approaches to mindful leadership. The following post was provided by the organizers of the webinar.

We live in a world of unprecedented pressure to be productive, complete tasks and stay in constant contact. For leaders, this can lead to a working environment that is fragmented by thousands of distractions and disparate demands. Attention spans are, unsurprisingly, becoming shorter as leaders struggle to find their way through this minefield.

It might all sound a bit hippy and New Age, but mindfulness might be just what leaders need at this point.

Many cultures have embraced this kind of thinking for centuries, but applying it to leadership and business, especially in the West, is rather more recent. There are five major aspects of effective leadership than can be developed through mindfulness.

Self-awareness

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it’s essential that leaders remain aware of how they are perceived by others. Being conscious of your own emotional and mental state, and of your behavior, is key to ensuring that you are the leader you want and need to be at all times.

The ability to see and experience yourself as others will is crucial in understanding the impact you have. It begins by being alert, listening to yourself, and observing the way you think, feel, speak and behave.

Presence in the moment

The modern leader needs to be able to experience situations clearly and without prejudice or emotional baggage. With so much complexity in every context, the ability to remain focused on the reality of a situation and the core purpose of any action is of significant benefit.
This is part of the wider topic of ‘critical thinking’. It could be as simple as paying attention to what is actually happening. People who multi-task often spend much of their time thinking about the thing they need to do next, or worrying about problems… mindfulness asks that you think about what is happening right now.

Resilience

Leaders are starting to recognize that their ability to withstand major trauma, bounce back from setbacks, and cope with pressure, all without becoming stressed, is a key factor influencing their capacity for providing engaging and confident leadership.

Stress is often the natural enemy of rational and considered behavior, and mindfulness can help a leader to treat setbacks and failures as learning experiences that can be analyzed to guide future action.

Compassion

Some traditional management thinking would have you believe that it is necessary to be tough and hard, demanding results and driving performance. In the 21st century, talented staff want a leader who is human and who understands that work-life balance is not just some wishy-washy fad, but a source of renewed commitment, engagement and enthusiasm.

The effective modern leader knows that their job is to enable their people to bring the best version of themselves to work, not just to squeeze them dry and discard them when they fall apart.

Gordon Gekko was a fictional character, just like Sir Alan Sugar or the Dragons. Leaders who really behaved that way would almost certainly find their best people jumping ship, and those that stayed being stressed, unwell and underperforming.

Calmness and rational thinking

In recent years, some excellent work has been done on developing our understanding of neuroscience, and the role of emotion in thinking patterns. Organizations like HeartMath have demonstrated the way emotional responses affect the ability to remain rational, and have shown just how important calmness is in sending out the right messages through deliberate, conscious behavior and unbiased decision-making.

In summary, mindfulness isn’t about finger-cymbals and chanting (not that there’s anything wrong with either of these), nor do you have to sit cross-legged in front of your guru… it’s just a hefty dollop of common-sense, applied to an area that is often rather short of it.

To find out how to harness the power of mindfulness to achieve these essential features of effective leadership, join the webinar.

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How to create calmness by observing thoughtspace and feelingspace

I was teaching a class the other night and after a guided meditation one woman said she’d found it hard because lots of thoughts came up, and she’d get absorbed in them. Then she had to keep letting go of the thoughts and returning to the breathing. Of course I reassured her that that’s absolutely normal. In fact, noticing that we’ve been caught up in the mind’s stories and returning to our present-moment experience (whether of the breathing or something else) is what meditation is about.

Once you accept that fact, you’re less likely to think of yourself as being a “bad meditator” or to think that your meditation practice isn’t going well just because you get distracted. In fact, under such circumstances your practice is going just as it should.

Many years ago I found it useful to watch what you might call “thoughtspace.” Thoughtspace is the physical location of your thinking. Now you might not have thought of your thinking as having a physical location, but try paying attention right now as you say something to yourself internally. I think you’ll find that your thoughts emanate from a particular place (probably inside your head). If you watch that part of your experience closely — if you monitor your thoughtspace — you’ll think less.

This helps to calm the mind. Except … I also found that there was a kind of secondary thoughtspace. Over and over I’d find that I was watching the primary thoughtspace (the one you just identified) carefully, only to become aware that there was a subtle background whispering coming from somewhere else. The thinking that came from the secondary thoughtspace seemed quieter and less obtrusive, however. The primary thoughtspace seemed to give rise to the kinds of thoughts that completely threw me off track and led into unmindful absorption in daydreams and fantasies. The secondary thoughtspace gave rise to subtler, more whispery thoughts, which co-existed with mindful attention so that I could be observing the breathing (or my primary thoughtspace) and still have a running commentary going on. However, those thoughts could shift to become the center of my attention if I wasn’t attentive enough.

You might want to try watching your thoughtspace and see if the same happens in your own experience.

Having just the whispery thoughts of the secondary thoughtspace is a lot better than having the more “in your face” thinking that normally goes on, but sometimes I like to calm and stabilize the mind even more. So one way to do that is to simultaneously observe your thoughtspace and what you could call your feelingspace.

Feelingspace, as I’m sure you’ve worked out, is a name for the area in the body where feelings arise. The point of observing the feelingspace is not to stop feeling arising! It’s just to observe what’s there. Now feelings can arise in many parts of the body, including the solar plexus and the heart. but most often they manifest in the solar plexus, just south of your sternum.

I don’t mean to imply having a narrow focus. If I were to start my meditation just by noticing the space where my thoughts arise and the solar plexus, for example, then this would feel very constricted and might even lead to a kind of “backlash” where my thinking increased. So although I may be focusing on the solar plexus I’m actually aware of most of the area in the body where feelings arise—basically most of the chest and abdomen. Within this, I’ll have a lightly-held focus on where I tend to be experiencing feelings the most at that particular time.

What I’ve found is that if I observe both the thoughtspace and the feelingspace at the same time, the mind becomes even quieter. The mind may not become completely silent all the time, but there are longer periods of calm.

Whatever you do, don’t get attached to the idea of getting rid of thoughts altogether! You can’t control the arising of thoughts, and they will tend to bubble up. If you have the idea that you’re only “succeeding” when there’s no thinking, then you’ll get frustrated. Just try doing the practice and see what happens. It may take you a while to feel your way into it, since there are a bunch of skills I’ve mentioned that you may have to work on developing — e.g. including two different parts of your experience in conscious awareness at the same time. Some people initially find this tricky since they have the habit of focusing narrowly (although not necessarily mindfully!)

The following things are all excellent outcomes:

If you’re making a gentle effort to observe both thoughtspace and feelingspace at the same time. If you’re able to do so, or getting better at doing so. If you find that you’re a bit more aware of your thinking without getting caught up in it. If you find that periods of distraction still arise but they don’t last as long. If your thinking seems lighter and less compelling than it was before. If you notice periods of time, even brief ones, where there appear to be no thoughts arising. If you’re more aware of the area of the body where feelings arise. If you notice your feelings more. If you notice the interaction between thoughts and feelings.

Basically, any increase in awareness of what’s going on inside you is good. Any movement, however slight, toward peace and freedom is welcome. But mainly what you’re doing is just being mindful of the body, of feelings, and of the mind. It’s about process, not outcomes.

You might want to give that a try and see if it works for you.

I’ve generally found that observing two physically separate parts of my experience has a profoundly calming effect (I call this “the perceptual stretch”) but the fact that feelings and thoughts interact with each other may also help this approach to be effective in calming the mind.

Just one last point, when you have a single candle in a large room, it’s not going to light up the whole space; appreciate the light you have, rather than cursing the darkness that remains. Value any moments of calmness that emerge, rather than lamenting the fact that thoughts are still arising. By valuing calmness, you encourage it to grow.

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Meditation changes the brain’s wiring and mindset, Harvard studies show

Debra Stern, HNGN: Sarah Lazar’s voice was calming even over the phone as she demonstrated, for this interview, a typical start to a mindfulness practice. “Notice you are breathing in and breathing out. Can you just be aware and really feel what it feels like as air passes through your nostrils?” she asks, gently.

“It may sound incredibly boring,” she says with a chuckle. “But things start to quiet down inside.”

According to Lazar, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, observing your breath …

Read the original article »

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