online course

The world needs your kindness

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world.
–The Buddha

Just as a child needs nurturing parents, the world, now more than ever, needs our wisdom, compassion, and care. But changing the world starts with changing ourselves.

For 2,500 years the Buddhist meditation tradition has offered powerful tools for self-transformation — for becoming wiser, kinder, and more compassionate.

Our 28-day online course introduces the practice of lovingkindness meditation, which helps us to be more at ease with, more patient with, and more supportive of ourselves, as well as calmer and kinder to those in our lives — from our dearest friends to those we find ourselves in conflict with.

I invite you to join me on this path of the heart, this discovery of the hidden power of kindness.

Read More

An easy mindfulness practice to help you relax

woman drinking coffee

Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, starts March 1.

Do you always live to – or beyond – your limits? Would you get less done if you took regular breaks?

Many people live in a ‘boom and bust’ way, otherwise known as the overactivity–underactivity cycle. To varying degrees, many of us swing between high energy and low energy.

We do less when we are feeling tired and unmotivated; then, when we feel more energetic, we hectically try to catch up on all the things that we’ve got behind with and end up overdoing it and getting stressed out. This tips us straight back into feeling exhausted and strained again, and so things on the list don’t get done as we are so tired, until there is another blitz on a good day. And so the cycle goes on. And on. And on.

Clearly it’s not such a great way to live and you could try something radical and take breaks before you need them. And we’re not talking about going to bed for the afternoon here or booking a two-week holiday in the sun; it’s a case of simply practising simple mindfulness exercises regularly or standing up to stretch from time to time when working at your desk.

The mindfulness exercise below is an easy way to take a break during your day and practice mindfulness at the same time. Pausing and paying attention to the simple act of boiling the kettle, will help you to break the boom-and-bust cycle that is making you feel so exhausted and strained. Instead of rushing and then going on to the next thing, or having a whirring mind as you make your tea – let your kettle boiling activity be an opportunity to experience your body and your senses and to have some moments of peace and calm. Try and do this meditation each time you stop for tea or coffee.

Boiling a kettle of water is one of those things that we all do several times a day without a moment’s thought. So try paying full mindful attention to filling and boiling a kettle of water.

As you lift the kettle to fill it, how heavy does it feel? Do you fill it via the spout or do you open the lid? Is the lid stiff? Pay full attention as the water swills out of the tap and into the kettle.

Does it hiss and bubble? Does it smell? We are so accustomed to the smell of water that we no longer notice it. Try to imagine how strong the smell of moisture would be if you had just spent a week in a desert. Spend a few moments thinking about how the water reached you. The rain falling on the distant mountains, trickling through rock and soil, until it eventually reaches a stream. Imagine the reservoir, the water-treatment works, the pipelines. Now, imagine all of the engineers and maintenance workers who designed, built and maintained the water network.

Think of the people involved in producing and distributing the electricity; the people growing and distributing the tea, coffee or cocoa that you will use to make your drink. We are all interconnected on myriad levels. And this is just for a cup of tea.

As you return the kettle to the work surface or cooker, pay close attention to your own movements. Were you aware of those movements or did they ‘just happen’? Likewise, did you consciously flick the electric switch to ‘On’ or light the cooker – or did your autopilot take care of things?

Now, listen as the kettle begins to heat. What can you hear? Close your eyes and drink in the sounds. Check in with yourself.

What mode of mind are you operating in? After a few moments, see if you can notice the first stirrings of impatience. Where in the body are they to be found? What do they feel like? Do they feel like a force trying to break out and exert control? Does your breath become constricted in some way? Habits of impatience can be compelling.

When the kettle has almost boiled, what do you do? Do you wait until the thermostat clicks off – or do you rush in and pour the water before it is boiled? See if you can be patient and wait for the thermostat to click off before mindfully lifting the kettle, being aware of your breath as you pour the water.

Spend a moment considering if there are other aspects of daily life that could also be used to cultivate mindfulness. Such ‘everyday mindfulness’ can be at least as important as the formal meditations.

Now take your cup of tea, coffee or cocoa and relax. You’ve earned it.

Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, starts March 1. Click here for details.

Read More

The why and the how of life

woman walking on a road

You have two big decisions to make in life.

  • The first is, Where do you want to go?

This is your life’s “why” — your purpose.

  • The second decision is, What are you going to do to get there?

This is your life’s “how.” How are you going to live? What choices are you going to make that are in line with your purpose and that take you in the right direction? How are you going to navigate life’s dilemmas? How do you make choices? To what are you going to say “yes” and to what are you going to say “no”? Who are you going to travel life’s journey with?

Get the why and the how in the wrong order and you’re in trouble. And most of us make that error. If our how is not informed by our why, then our lives are unlikely to be meaningful, purposeful, and satisfying, and will instead have a haunting sense of meaninglessness, of going up blind alleys, and of a persistent, nagging sense that something, at a very fundamental level, isn’t right.

The trouble is that most of us do indeed plunge into the how without thinking much about the why. In fact, my guess is that most of us devote little or no time to clarifying what our values are, and so we stumble blindly through life, often guided by other people’s values and expectations, or living in a disjointed way, guided by different purposes in different circumstances.

The purpose of Find and Live Your Purpose is to help you both to clarify what are your values and purpose (your why) and also the how — how to live a life that’s congruent with and organized around your core principles.

Our purpose is not something we create. It’s something that is already within us. It’s something that is to be divined. The aim is to help you clarify your core values, and to live them, so that you become more authentically you.

This is work that’s dear to my heart. Back in the early 1990’s, when I was running a retreat center in the Highlands of Scotland and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the task I was charged with, I happened upon a book by the late Stephen Covey — “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.”

This book had been recommended to me years before, but I’d avoided it because I assumed that Covey’s “success” was defined in material terms — gaining power, making lots of money, living in a big house, and so on. But I came to learn that Covey’s idea of a successful person was one who lived with awareness — an awareness that in every moment we face choices, and that those choices matter.

On deeper exploration, I found that the first three of Covey’s Seven Habits corresponded closely — even exactly — with the first three fetters that the Buddha said had to be broken in order for insight to arise. The breaking of these three fetters doesn’t represent full awakening, but the first stage of wakening, and it’s a highly significant event in our spiritual life.

I found the synergy between these two systems to be powerfully transformative. The clarity I gained at that time set up my life’s direction from that point right up to the present moment (and, I presume, beyond).

The aim of Find and Live Your Purpose aims to help you have a deep sense of faith that you’re doing the right thing, heading in the right direction, and to be whole, complete, and happy.

But this course ultimately has as its aim helping you to move closer to Awakening.

As we explore our life’s purpose we’ll draw on Buddhist teachings leading to insight, as well as on some of the overlapping principles that Covey outlines in his book (which are the same principles, but in different language).

You don’t have to have read Covey’s book (although it may help) and you don’t have to be that familiar with Buddhist teachings (although that, of course, wouldn’t do any harm). The guided meditations, the daily readings, and the reflections you’ll be doing in your own time will, i hope, together help you to make progress on the path to waking up to reality.

If you’re interested in joining this online course, which will included guided meditations as well as daily teachings by email, you can click here to learn more.

Read More