Guided Mindfulness Practice
Listen to Andy Metcalf’s Guide to Mindfulness Practice
Nick Carroll’s Reflections for June
Mindfulness Meditation: this moment, only the moment
Mindfulness practice ‘on the cushion’ differs from mindfulness when we are in active mode, interacting with the external world. Both are awareness based but sitting quietly allows us to pay more attention to our inner processes, more than when we are exposed to external stimuli.
Currently we are all understandably preoccupied with what is happening in the world. We watch the news, we listen to the radio and we talk to friends, sharing a stream of feelings and thoughts about the threat we are experiencing from an unseen virus.
We notice how preoccupation with it can all too easily seep into our lives, keeping us awake at night as we ruminate and worry. Although we need to consider consequences, fear and anxiety can magnify possibilities out of proportion, disabling us from seeing things clearly.
So, how best not to be flooded by fear and anxiety? What secure reference point can we find that stabilises and reassures.
It is important to remember that everything that we experience is only actually real in the moment. This moment is the only moment that is real, in that all our memories are of the past, which is no longer actual, and a future which is unknown.
We know in the present that we are thinking about the past. We also know in the present that we are thinking or speculating about the future. But the knowing is always in the present. In that sense only ‘now’ is real.
At what point does the moment of ‘now’ begin, and at what point does it end? It is impossible to say since ‘now’ is always in the present; the moment something is noticed in the moment, it is already in the past. So, in that sense the absolutely present moment is timeless.
On reflection we can see that our whole life flows through this timeless moment. Being born and then growing up, experiencing life, growing old and eventually dying; all the dramas of our life are lived in the present moment of ‘now’. Our happy moments, our sad moments, our lonely moments and our boring moments; all the feelings we experience and all the thoughts that we have, all arise and cease in the ever-present moment.
What we also notice is that all our experiences are constantly changing, always coming and going; and even when they repeat, none of them are exactly the same.
With our memory of the past and with our ability to imagine future scenarios, we create our perception of time. We arrange our experiences into a sequence of connected events, putting them into a context where we recognise and detect patterns that give meaning to what we experience. Yet we find that even the meanings we give to our experiences are also subject to change.
So, where do we find safety or peace in an ever-changing landscape of experience and thought? Through investigation and through trial and error we find that we can only find certainty in the heart of the moment. We find that the heart of the moment is empty and yet gives rise to everything. And it is timeless; in that it has no beginning, no middle and no end.
Experiencing the stillness at the centre of the present moment changes our relationship to the changing conditions we experience, both inner and outer. When better established in this inner stillness, we find that we make better balanced judgements and decisions in our inner and external worlds. Knowing the safety of stillness, we are less fearful, less likely to be overwhelmed by anxiety. And we sleep better.
The present moment and all that clusters around it, arise in mindfulness. Being still and mindful, even for a short period of time, and not attaching to anything that arises in our awareness, allows inner speculations and disturbances to arise, churn away for a bit, and then eventually pass away, leaving us feeling calmer. All we have to do is bring our attention back, again and again, to the present moment.
We can practise this simply by sitting quietly, witnessing all that arises and all that passes without holding onto anything; simply being in the moment without ‘doing’ anything. This is the key to the natural practice of mindfulness and the arising of insight.
It requires patience and determined curiosity driven by a search for true well-being.
The more fully present we are to the heart of the present moment, the greater the peace. When we know the emptiness of the moment, we know true stillness and peace – our true home.
The Awake Network is presently offering a series on online seminars which are a combination of thoughtful scientific input, and guided practice, particularly in relation to the coronavirus.
In particular, Jon Kabat-Zinn led the series and his video can be downloaded from YouTube – Mindful Healthcare Speaker Series.