Never Tried Meditation? Start Here…

planet mindful image

If you’d like to bring more mindfulness to your life then beginning to meditate is one of the best ways to start. Meditation is a ‘practice’, we are practicing not to be brilliant meditators but to show up more fully to the moments of our life as they arise. Neuroscience shows us that through meditation we can train the brain to be more focused on the present and spend less time mind-wandering. So taking some time out to meditate may mean you spend less time procrastinating, worrying and ruminating leaving you more time to feel alive.

Meditation is for everyone, it’s a return to our natural state of being. Learning to meditate is actually more an unlearning of all that we’ve placed on top of our ability to simply be present.

So, lets get started; the best place to start is exactly where you are. If you can find a space in a quiet room then that is helpful, however really we can meditate anywhere. It is worth bearing in mind that there are rarely the ‘right’ conditions for meditation and it is part of the practice to see if we can allow and accept things as they are. All you really need is already here – your body and your breath, you can’t breathe in the past or the future, only now, so this is always our access point to the present.

How should I position myself?

It is good to get comfortable with an upright aligned spine and a grounded triangular base, so if you are sitting on a chair try to have your feet on the floor, hip-width apart, feeling into the sitting bones. To avoid back ache the knees should be positioned below the hips. Alternatively sit cross-legged if this is comfortable for you; some people find it helpful to place something under the knees to prop them up if there is any straining across the groin area. With any seated position it is worth having a little sway from side to side, backwards and forwards to feel into your mid-point, so the head is resting aligned on the neck and neither the head or pelvis are tilted too far one way or another. A further option is to lay down. I advise clients to lay in a semi supine position, on their back, head slightly propped up with a book or small pillow and knees raised, again hip width apart, feet on floor. Laying in semi-supine is great for realigning the spine, plus if we begin to fall asleep our knees usually start to wobble and this wakes us up!

What should I be doing?

Relaxed awareness is what we are after, so there’s no need to try too hard, rather than our awareness being on our thoughts we are gently tuning into being present for this moment in time. If we approach it as ‘being in meditation’ rather than ‘doing a meditation’ this tends to bring a lightness of touch that allows us to let go, be less judgemental and move into sensing mode.

What about thoughts?

Mindfulness meditation is not about ‘clearing the mind’ or pushing away thought. If you’ve ever lain in bed at night trying to stop thinking you’ll know how this tends to make thoughts come thicker and faster.  Instead we are recognising and changing our relationship to thoughts. We do this by being completely open and allowing of thought, just choosing to let thoughts come and go whilst gently bringing our attention back to the present.

I’ve developed a meditation technique called the ‘sitting at the station of our thoughts’ approach. Rather than jumping on every train of thought that comes along we gently attempt to stay where we are in the meditation, allowing trains of thought to come and go without getting on board. Thought only becomes thinking when we engage with it. When we notice a thought and our compulsion to get on board we simply redirect our attention back into the breath or the body and in doing so allow that particular train to continue it’s journey without taking us along for the ride. At first we may find that some of our thoughts have a sticky quality that draws our attention, whisking us off into the worlds of past and future thinking. However, as we practice just noticing this, without beating ourselves up but gently coming back to the station, we retrain the brain to let go and return to the now. The impact of this is felt not only in our meditation but in our day-to-day lives as we get better at letting go and beginning again, right where we are.

Let’s meditate!

When we start meditating it is useful for us to use a fixed ‘anchor’ such as the body or breath so that we have something to focus on, this type of meditation is called ‘Bompu Zen’ or concentration meditation. As we build up our ability to be less distracted through practice we are able use less of an anchor and move into the realms of ‘Satori Zen’ or insight meditation.

So, let’s start with the anchor of the breath…

You may want to read the below through and get into a meditation position that’s comfortable for you before giving this a go:

Firstly, noticing the breath just as it is, tuning in to the natural rise and fall of the breath that can be felt down in the tummy…

Then very simply we begin counting our breaths 1–10…

In-breath is 1

Out-breath is 2

In-breath is 3

All the way up to 10

And then we begin again at 1.

You may find it helpful to close your eyes while you do this.

Move as deeply as you can into the experience of the breath you are in and allow the next breath to arrive all by itself. Don’t rush to get to the next breath or the next number, just be focused on where you are. Thoughts will pop into your head, this is perfectly OK, but as soon as you realise that you have got on board one of those trains simply return to counting the breath.

Well done! You’ve chosen to make a start. Exploring our inner space is one of life’s greatest adventures, I wish you the happiest of journeys.

Frances Trussell, Mindfulness Mediation Teacher and Author of You Are Not Your Thoughts; The Secret Magic of Mindfulness” out now.

This article was first published in Planet Mindful January 2019

 

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Mind the Gap; the brilliant technique for being less stressed!

Mind the Gap Image

Stress used to rule my life, expressing itself in many guises. Highly emotional and easily upset, despite the pretence of a hard exterior even the slightest of criticisms pierced my very thin skin. Often the red mist would descend, amid flashes of anger I’d suddenly become a shouty, stompy (occasionally throwing things) version of myself. Back then I might have described myself as passionate and fiery, in denial about how destructive my outbursts were to my relationships with others and with myself. Huge waves of self-loathing and hot tears would usually follow one of these fits. I’d replay the fight or incident, rerunning and reimagining the dialogues, struggling between the need to be right and the potential I might not be. Writing this raises many uncomfortable and embarrassing memories. But it also raises a little smile in me, because I can say, hand-on-heart, things do not push my buttons in the same way anymore. I cultivated a technique I call ‘Mind the Gap’ which worked so effectively for me it changed my behaviour and reduced stress across all areas of my life. I’ve gone on to teach this to many hundreds of my clients since.

It came from recognising that the stress, anger and upset in my life wasn’t coming from outside forces, it was coming from inside me. When we take ownership of our stress we have an opportunity to respond to where we find ourselves rather than be stuck in the cycle of unconscious autopilot reactions.

It was the most minor of mundane events, the alarm clock went off – the sound was enough for me to want to throw the alarm clock out of the window, to wish I could throw myself out of the window. Anger and anxiety shot through me, a precursor to the cycles of worry that I knew would shortly kick in. Then a realisation; the alarm clock was just a machine with sound coming out of it, the stress didn’t come from there. The day, just a day of my life, the stress didn’t come from there either. The stress came from me, how I was reacting to a sound and my thoughts around this. In this split second of awareness I was able to see myself almost like having an out-of-body-experience. I could witness my behaviour, feel my physical reactions and see the thoughts that were feeding this. I was able to step back and see that this pattern that had been appearing in all areas of my life. Usually an event, situation, comment or even thought served as a trigger for my stress reaction, I’d then fly off the handle, disappearing into a series of stories of my head rather than the reality of the situation. I’d got well practiced in living in the worst-case scenario world of my thoughts, constantly acting from defence mode as if at threat from some immediate attack. I’d been reacting not to what was in front of me but to the tale I’d created around that and at the very route of that reaction whether expressed as anger or tears was always fear. I’d been living in hyperarousal, so often it only took the slightest thing to tip me into fight or flight. In becoming aware of this something shifted in me, I’d created a really small space in which I could witness myself and how things really were. From this space I could see that I had some choice about how the next moments played out – I could either continue to react or choose instead to respond. For me, and so many people I’ve worked with, this moment of recognition is transformative. Like switching from autopilot to manual, a claiming back of power.

Here’s how the ‘Mind the Gap’ technique works and how you can implement it into your life. Firstly it’s helpful to recognise that stressors are external pressures and stress is your reaction (or response) to those pressures. Therefore, stress doesn’t come from ‘out there’ it comes from inside you. Usually what feeds our stress is not the situation but our thoughts around it.

When we are operating on autopilot we automatically react to stressors;

Stressor > Reaction.

When we bring our awareness to what is going on for us, we give ourselves the opportunity to notice when we are in a potentially stressful situation, be aware of our thoughts, feelings and what is going on in the body. By switching from autopilot to manual we create space in which we can choose to respond rather than react:

Stressor > Gap > Response

With our mindful awareness we get to ‘Mind the Gap’ between an event and our reaction, hopefully choosing to respond rather than react.

So, next time you find yourself in a stressful situation remember that stressors will be stressors but it’s your stress and notice how awareness of this helps to dissipate your feelings around it. For example, in a traffic jam we have a couple of options:

Option 1: Be incredibly annoyed/upset/angry about the traffic jam, worry about the knock of effect of your lateness, catastrophise about possible outcomes, allow damaging stress hormones to rush around your body.

Option 2: Be in the traffic jam.

Either way the traffic moves no faster. The force of your upset has no impact on the traffic, the only person it has an impact upon is you. Stress in small bursts can be useful but living in a constantly stressed out state we become distressed, our immunity to disease is weakened with both the quality, and possibly quantity, of our lives reduced. The more we practice minding the gap the more we develop a ‘not-minding so much’ attitude to life. After all we are not in the traffic, we are the traffic – whether we choose to be stuck in it is down to us. Wherever I’ve encountered a similar stuck feeling this insight has helped me enormously. I won’t claim to always get this right but I’ve learned to let go more, of the need to be right and of the struggle with what is. Ultimately as we raise our level of consciousness we come to recognise that resisting where we are or fighting with the past is a huge waste of our energy. We can instead channel this energy, the most precious of resources, more wisely. How we respond to where we find ourselves is our greatest power in life, stepping into this our most empowering choice. Mind the gap and witness how this gap grows, becoming space and lightness. This space has allowed for more compassion, humour and creativity than the former stress-head me would ever have dreamed possible.

This piece, written by Frances Trussell was first published by Psychologies Magazine 15th August 2018: Link to original article on Lifelabs here.

You can now order a copy of Frances’ new book: You Are Not Your Thoughts: The Secret Magic of Mindfulness 

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The Meaning of Life…

Winking Universe Lady

What is your take on the meaning of life? When Excellence Reporter first asked to interview me on the meaning of life I felt incredibly honoured, but also, I don’t mind admitting, slightly overwhelmed. Rather hilariously ‘write the meaning of life’ has been sitting at the top of my to-do lists over the last couple of months. The question floated into my practice, conversations and dreams and then after one meditation as I wrote in my journal the following just flowed onto the page…

What a wonder it is just to be alive, more remarkable still to be aware of this and to wonder what might be the meaning of life?

As endless reflections of consciousness becoming conscious of itself there are as many meanings as there are makers of meaning. Perceived by the perceiver, these ever-changing ripples of reality and perception shift instant by instant, uniquely filtered and distilled.

Even if you know what I mean, you’ll never really know my meaning, for no two of us live the same life. Many may have had a moment of ‘no-one understands me’ and on one level we are right, yet this is only a tiny fraction of the picture. The little surface me, the flesh-bound layer of self-consciousness. The part of us that is easily wounded, critical, anxious and needs to be right. This is the layer where life happens to us, our actions and reactions driven by fear. It is easy to be held here on the surface, so compelling our storylines, so persistent our thoughts.

For me, the meaning of life is to wake up to the wonder of life beyond meaning and experience the wonder it is just to be alive. With this human equipment it is so easy to forget ourselves, lost in the maze of the mind, so we are here to remember why we are here. This can be seen with the naked eye when the eye is truly naked. Grasped only when we stop grasping. In our search for meaning we can get in our own way, for searching is doing and defining is confining.

When we awaken to the brilliance of our being, so much vaster and greater than the smallness of any thought, we wake up to the true meaning of all meaning. The solid reveals itself as spacious and fear gives way to love. We experience the energy of life flowing through us and in this eternal moment we join the dance. No longer the spectator or commentator we step into our true nature. The emptiness that propelled our search for meaning, that hungered all of our wanting, once realised becomes wholeness. The need for meaning satiated by knowing who we really are. Laughing and crying at the same time, just because, feeling the full contradicted contrast of things. Two opposing truths, both true at the same time; wholeness and emptiness, darkness and light experienced together as one, no beginning, no end, just now.

While we are here, we are here to be here fully, to have a direct experience of life. Indirectly experienced meaning holds no meaning. Even the most vivid of imaginations cannot summon up a taste without lips and a mouth and taste buds. If no taste had ever been tasted before, the sensation of dripping juice, the essence from ripened fruit, is just meaningless. Yet to you and I, to us who know, we know, without words as signposts or pale imitations of the truth. Sweetness only sweet through direct experience and contrast of the sour. Together we can sip on the full flavour of life, whilst catching fleeting glances of ourselves in the mirror of awareness along the way.

How would it be if I had never had feet that touched the earth, that walked and ran and leaped in exploration? If I never had this body to feel and to touch, to move and express, to hear the beauty of birdsong and look up towards the sky? If I had never had the chance to live and love and be loved and lost? To be here, to create, to play, to learn, to grow. Then to unlearn, unfold and to let go, surely this is what gives meaning to everything and to every nothing?

In life we eat the sun, turning our many faces towards it to feel the light. Until breath, the thin layer of separation between inside and out, between living and dying, here and there, falls away. And the ripples of an endless echo find no surface on which to bounce. The roar of the wave of all things crashes without crashing and we become the light once more.

The above is from an interview first published by Excellence Reporter in July 2018: Frances Trussell on The Meaning of Life

What is your take on the Meaning of Life?! Please share your take or comments below.

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