Developing mindfulness

Dear friends

Well it is a while since I have written on this blog and it seems quite a lot has happened in between including experience extreme temperature changes! We were snowed in while we were in New England and my friends there are still shovelling snow which is piling up as high as their roofs.

What an education and what a privilege, to visit 2 New England states, plus Washington CD, a fancy restaurant ‘Little Park’ in Tribeca for my birthday, and  Waldorf school in Brooklyn, New York and  Monticello and Blacksburg in Virginia. Not to mention the reading I got in when we were snowed in, and of course on the plane, in between episodes of the wonderfully funny ‘Web Therapy’ and a few movies and a documentary called ‘Ivory Tower’ about the state of higher education in the US. I couldn’t believe Emirates was showing this on the plane, what fabulous research prep!

I’ve entitled this post ‘developing mindfulness’ because I have realised – along with some others writing in the field we are at the very beginning of this journey into and perhaps beyond ‘mindfulness’.

Just about everyone I have spoken to and read of late about mindfulness, formally and informally has a different definition! For some it has to do with ‘inclusive awareness’. or ‘unconditioned awareness’. ‘participatory awareness’, or ‘mindlessness’, ‘awakeness’, ‘pure awareness, ‘taking responsibility’, ‘focusing’, ‘noticing’, ‘thinking before I act or speak’, ‘awareness of surroundings’. ‘being in the zone’, ‘handling situations more effectively’, ‘relaxing into discomfort’, ‘detachment’, ‘non judging’, ‘self-compassion’ ‘flow’ ‘accepting’, being in the present moment’, ‘not distracted’, ‘communicating more effectively’, ‘being more aware of others feelings’ … and many more.

I had the privilege of visiting a college class on mindfulness and communication and talked about my sense that mindfulness is our birthright, a natural state within us able to be located at any time in which we are able to be in the present moment and there is a sense that all’s right with the world in spite of any personal difficulties we might be going through a the time.

While I feel this state is  often catalysed by a powerful experience in nature relationship (such as falling in love, birth, parenting, career/vocation, service,death, divorce, fallings out with people or work) or illness I was interested in whether the young people in the class knew what I was trying somewhat clumsily to express so I invited responses.

I was blown away. About 6 or 7 students put their hands up straight away and told us stories of feeling this when:

  • I am serving soup at the soup kitchen for homeless people
  • when I teach a child something at the child care centre where I work and the child really ‘gets it’ and I feel my life is worthwhile
  • when I wake up in the morning and I am just aware of myself before any problems come into my mind
  • when I had my son
  • when I have paid my bills for the week

I was struck by the elegant simplicity of what they said and I have been wondering if perhaps this generation is way more across the evolutionary phenomenon that seems to be happening where the individual self is making way for a more transcendent, ‘higher’, deeper self. It’s not like post modernism where the self was deconstructed to the point of nihilism. This is different, there is a sense that there is something underlying our selfish, needy, wanting, demanding individual selves that connects us, but consciously this time. Jack Wexler in his book Mystical Sociology writes that this is a new phenomenon, that as this consciousness becomes available to more and more people, it’s not longer the elites who hold on to the power –  once priests,  or as Barry Long called them religionists, now perhaps psychologists, mindfulness teachers who gatekeep, insist on years of practice on the cushion before we can truly connect with what is, as I said above, to me, our birthright.

I have never had much truck with those who hold institutional power. I am interested in my research and teaching in mindfulness in finding out how people experience mindfulness, to hear from past students writing to me such as the young woman who wrote this week to tell me how she has been tsharing the soles of the feet mindfulness activity with her new class of year 3/4s and how they ask to do it everyday. I think this speaks to the passion and care of this young woman as much if not more than the actual activity…

As Willoughby Brittain has convincingly shown, it is likely that whatever intervention or program we bring, with enthusiasm, love of children, excitement about learning and commitment to teaching  is likely to show positive outcomes, whether it is mindfulness or anything else we are passionate about. I remember being taken with my year 4 teacher’s passion for grafting fruit trees… not that I was in the slightest bit interest in the topic, but I was inspired by his inspiration. That really stood out for me.. perhaps that is mindfulness- I do remember his presence and us being enveloped in that presence…

Who knows, but  like Willoughby Brittain from Brown University I am keen to temper outlandish claims for successful outcomes of mindfulness interventions and perhaps more importantly, I am especially keen to highlight that mindfulness tends to things up from the unconscious, it’s what it is meant to do if it is practiced properly, because it leads us to the Zen idea of ‘big mind’ or the Buddhist one of ‘great mind’ or the Sufi idea of oneness, the ancient Greek one of non duality, of no-change. It will lead to the dissolution of the superficial parts of the self, those habits of mind we have been conditioned to uphold, those parts of us that have been formed through reaction to environmental stimuli but our not our true selves. And this is painful, there is no way out of that. It is like Margot Ridley says and demonstrates, a cleaning out. As Adyashanti has shown in his life experience, there can be epiphanies and realisations of oneness but they fade and leave us until we have done the clearing out of the conditioned, limited self, which by the way doesn’t retreat too easily!

Are regular teachers and workshop leaders prepared to deal with breakdowns of the self, of ‘dark nights of the soul’ the feelings of depression, of not coping ? I am not at all sure if they are. If we have people in our classes and sessions who have experienced trauma, at war, or though familial abuse or other events, they need their protection, it is necessary for their survival, until they are ready to begin to let the chinks show through the armour. This needs a very safe environment and a guide who knows the territory, otherwise anger and fear can result, along with vicarious trauma.

And should we be breaking down the building up of a child’s self, or should we allow it to go through its natural developmental course, until in freedom, a young person or older person decides they want to consciously undertake their own journey into the self, and its darkness, not just the individual darkness but the cultural, historical darkness of the human being in evolution.

These are all questions I believe we should begin asking as the field of mindfulness matures…  it’s a necessary endeavour as questions start to be raised about ‘Mc Mindfulness’, the marketing of mindfulness mindfulness in the military, mindfulness in large corporations, practising mindfulness to make more money, be more successful and even, the company that sells marijuana, which call itself MINDFUL.

As you all know I am passionate about mindfulness, I am excited about my post grad topic in mindfulness, about my research in mindfulness, about sharing it with others. However I feel there is a need to bring a degree of mindfulness to the topic of mindfulness, some awareness, some criticality, if it is to be something that can be developed further, sustained, rather than end up just another fad that is superseded.

As always I would love to hear from you, either on the blog or by email. I feel this post has been ‘brewing’ for a while, but not quite  ready to write. I had the moment tonight when my partner said he was delayed at work picking grapes…

It is wonderful to be back in this warm, spacious country after an incredible visit to the states and it will take time to process all I have learnt, that is for sure, I am so grateful to all there who have welcomed me into their workplaces and homes..

love Leigh

To be fair: continuing on a ‘positive’ theme….

Dear friends

I find writing this blog so helpful for my self in terms of learning how to communicate effectively what I experience to others. Last post I was wanting express some of my concerns about the limitations of positive thinking and found myself feeling I had not quite conveyed this fully and had perhaps painted too bleak a picture. Of course  the positive thinking/positive education/positive psychology/wellbeing initiatives can be an excellent starting place for many as we try to understand and address the unhappiness  and mental health issues in our world, and in people of all ages perhaps especially the young.

For me though it’s not  so much about things being either positive or negative.  This like most binaries does not seem useful to me. While polarities are the stuff of life – yin/yang, male/female, east/west, day/night, white/black, positive/negative, they often contain a hidden hierarchy where one is deemed ‘better than the other’.

What I didn’t express in the last post was that yes of course it’s true that  our thoughts do affect our emotions  and changing our thoughts can change our behaviour and even the situation to a degree but what comes first is our awareness, we need firstly to be aware of the thoughts before we  can change them. So the awareness is the most important aspect for me and perhaps not yet addressed enough in positive psychology although the work of Csiksentmihalyi in ‘flow’ is a significant exception.

There  are certainly times when we want to ‘go with the flow’ and feel what we are feeling… perhaps a  tinge of melancholy of sadness, of grief perhaps if we have experienced a loss.   Certain urgent and intense experiences ( often relating to death or illness) can  jolt us from an everyday state of existence to the authentic state of mindfulness of being as existential philosophy Heidegger and existential psychoanalyst Yalom suggested. During these liminal ‘border’ experiences we are often fully self-aware, in an existential, heightened state… and if we overlay a whole lot of rationalisation we are going to miss the beauty, power, significance, message, learning and healing.They may be more powerful than years of sitting meditation practice so we want to be able to let go into them.

More and more I see that the mindfulness work is about realising we are not our mind.So using our mind to change our behaviour while perhaps effective to a degree in the short term (rationalising to reduce panic as I did last year when I thought I had messed up some online grading!) it  doesn’t go anywhere deep enough.It may perhaps help though  in building some ego-strength, enough resilience to be able to begin to accept some suffering and undertake the process of dismantling the ego!

It’s not about trying to stop thinking though , that is like using the mind to defeat the mind and it’s too clever for that to work!

The best way to realise we are not our minds it seems to me and many spiritual teachers is to get into our  bodies through a form of meditation that takes us right inside, (see http://www.barrylong.org/statements/meditation.shtml ) to experience the pure sensation, the sensation in the soles of the feet, the toes, the fingers, legs, arms, head, nose, lips.. try it now, are you able to sense it?

As a woman in one of my workshops said “When I was doing the exercise I couldn’t think!’.

As  Australian meditation teacher Linda Clair ( Simple Meditation ) says is about changing the reference point from the mind to the body, ‘a very powerful thing to do’.

Its realising that our wellbeing is not dependent on where we are  or what we are thinking, it has to do with tapping into this inner awareness which is behind all thought and emotion and is always present whereever we are in whatever situation  if only we can connect with it. Over time it becomes stronger and stronger as well and less likely to seemingly disappear… which reminds me of  a colleague who had some technological difficulties during a conference presenting,and telling us that ‘My wellbeing just flew out the window!” It doesn’t really disappear though, our awareness of it is just hijacked by the mind which is very powerful in those situation.

The grounding and stabilising of awareness as Linda and Barry Long acknowledge  takes time, it has to take time.

The mindfulness practice is about preparing the body and when it has taken hold enough within,  we don’t really need the practices anymore, being aware becomes a way of being, but hopefully this doesn’t mean we become too boring!  as New York Times blogger Judith Warner ( warner.blogs@nytimes.com)  suggests happened to one of her friends who was right into mindfulness:

I was beginning to wonder what body snatcher had taken my cranky friend away and left this kindly, clam, pod person in her place?

She wondered:

Is something lost in all this new, improved selfhood? That is, an edge. That little bit of raggedness that for some of us really is the heart of what makes us human?

I don’t think we need to lose our individuality – I don’t want to lose my little bit of raggedness and I appreciate it in others, very much.

Nonetheless it is good to be experiencing such an incredible slowing down, which is very softening!

I am finding that my questions, my need for answers is disappearing, that I am more happy to just be here, not bothering too much. We do need to give ourselves time for this work, to connect with this awareness that is already within and not live so much  on the surface of the mind with this likes/dislikes, opinions, arguments. There is a challenge for those of us who work in education, which so much emphasis on ‘mind work’.

I see that university teaching and research should ideally include time and space for deep reflection, for sanctuary, for insight, intuition, creativity, relationship.I found this email from 2011 the other day from a friend and post-graduate student…

I had a dream the other night I had forgotten about but something triggered the images again. I was helping you set up a new contemplative education center at the university! It was a bit of an experiment to see if it would work and it did. It became very popular. It started slow, mainly because the land they gave us was the outskirts of the campus and quite hard to find and access, but we built this amazing multi-layered, open, plan, lush, colorful place that was quite magnetic.

People couldn’t drive there, they had to walk but they came in spite of the terrain because they could abandon their books and bags and just come as themselves. There were lots of people’s bags and books left along the path and when they arrived they were so relieved and happy to be there…..

It’s such a lovely image.. I hope the mindfulness topic and our mindfulness special interest research group (contact me if interested in either leigh.burrows@flinders.edu.au ) might be part of something bigger like this…I  do think I might be dropping some bags and even maybe some books ( I deleted some books on my I Pad just this morning!) along the path as well!

much love to you all and thanks for the comments and emails- will post something from Massachusetts I think after a visit to Walden Pond!

Leigh

Exploring some (American) themes : ‘Live free or die’, ‘smile or die’, positive thinking and positive psychology

Hi again everyone

As you know I have been doing some background reading in preparation for my research and conference trip to the states. Please excuse the somewhat discursive and meandering style of this post, I hope you will stay with it!

This week I have been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s fabulously titled book ‘Smile or Die’ about the down side of positive thinking in America. I made an instant association with the maxim on New Hampshire licence plates ‘ Live free or die’ but I think they might be on opposite sides of the spectrum!

Ehrenreich writes about her meeting with positive psychology ‘guru’ Martin Seligman and her exploration of the ‘optimism training’ which has been offered by his organisation – with the aim of assisting people  to be  more ‘successful’ as well as  more healthy and happy ( without a sense these may not necessarily be linked).  Seligman recommends in his book Authentic Happiness to: “choose your venue and design your mood to fit the task at hand’, and suggests that while this involves ‘working hard’,  optimism can be learned through  ‘reprogramming’  thoughts in a more optimistic direction. I have always found this idea a little offensive-  if people  are facing adversity and multiple challenges all over the world is it really  because they  have not been optimistic enough? Seligman is apparently impatient with ‘victims’ and ‘victimology’ saying in a 2000 interview that when things go wrong it is our character or decisions that are at fault and not external circumstances.  (There seems to be a tension here though between this work and his early pre positive psychology research on ‘learned helplessness’ which showed that when dogs were tormented in random ways they become passive, depressed and unable to defend themselves, but I guess perhaps people are seen as having more internal resources than dogs.)

There does appear to be  tendency ‘cheerily’ make grand claims for the benefits of positive psychology, with a number of studies now emerging however that indicate there are growing concerns about inconsistencies, ‘bad science’, reservations about findings including that many of the results are presented as stronger than they are, that they are causative rather than correlational and therefore ‘scientifically unwieldy’ , that there are  even potentially harmful effects and also  claims of its inherent conservatism, sect-like feel,  ‘branding’, and acceptance of social inequities. For positive psychology attends mostly to the changes we can make internally by adjusting our own outlook rather than working for social change.

I guess that like as with mindfulness there are many careers invested in and based on positive psychology!

I have been intrigued actually in recent months by the links some writers, teachers, students  and academics are making between positive psychology and mindfulness. I think its another example of mindfulness having multiple meanings. It seems to me that Western positive psychology is very much focused on the individual, while traditional Eastern meditation traditions are focused  on ‘no-self’ or ‘one self’ so its hard to see how mindfulness has been absorbed into positive psychology so readily.

it seems to me that a ‘non dual’ approach to mindfulness has much potential for us in the West as it  does not deny or repress or fight with the conditioned individual self but it does not buttress it either, rather it surrounds it so the experience of subjectivity and oneness with all are therefore possible at the same time, with a gradual dissolution of the problematic aspects of self. Therefore there is  no loss of individual freedom but no alienation either from the body, other people  and nature.

It seems to make perfect sense to me and represents  and the coming together of East and West, perhaps even male and female.  I am reminded of Simon Baron Cohen (cousin of Sacha)’s work on autism, where he framed the autism and Asperger’s Syndrome as ‘extreme forms of the male brain’ and excessive empathy to the point of a loss of self an ‘extreme form of the female brain’.

This links for me with the experience of friends who lived in ashrams in India with spiritual teachers, able to find equanimity and depth and oneness there but unable to do so back at home in relationship, family, work. And with those of us who have satisfying lives in the West, with family , friends, work and a strong sense of social justice and service and yet know that powerful as all of these are in being able to draw us out into the world, there is an inexhaustible spring that nourishes us deeply from within.. I think this is what Frankel must have been able to tap into when he writes of his experience of extreme conditions in concentration camps and how when given the opportunity to leave and have outer freedom he elected to stay with his fellow captives.

Being able to make such a choice, coming from a balanced place of individual & connected- from the true ‘I’-  is certainly a deeper form of freedom for me.. is that what those patriotic lines on the licence plates ‘live free or die’ really point to?

And perhaps what Ehrenreich is asking us to see as well is that while individuals in the West may make ‘free’ decisions they do not  necessarily need to be  aimed at extending our life expectancy, or making us more happy or healthy, or indeed more successful and wealthy.

I am conscious that Australia is embracing many aspects of positive psychology in both government and private education, and in university education. I believe there is a lot more circumspection needed as there is about mindfulness as there can be a secular kind of evangelicism in these movements, embraced first perhaps by America but maybe willingly and uncritically followed by Australians?

I would love to show you today’s Leunig cartoon in The Age.. he shows a couple at the table with their little dog beside them… the woman is looking at the newspaper and saying:

‘Ah well.. I suppose we’d better look and see what new year resolutions America has made for us..’

What a country of diverse perspectives I have the privilege to visit again!

In a very early post on this blog I wrote about my desire to see a local, grassroots mindfulness movement develop here, that suits our context, consciousness and somewhat informal and sceptical, questioning style… I am reminded of the book my partner read a few years ago called  ‘Deer Hunting with Jesus’ where the author stated that  while America got the pilgrims, Australia the convicts (and we were the lucky ones!).. as a former  Victorian I can identify with this but South Australia is a state of free settlers so where does this place us?

In any case I am very drawn to the pilgrim side of America and that’s why we are flying into Boston!

On another note I forgot to thank people for their emails and personal comments about the shape activity in the blog before last, its been quite popular and is something I will use in workshops, like mindfulness it can help us shift perspective!

love Leigh

He is an intellectual, as defined by Albert Camus: “Someone whose mind watches itself.”

Last post for 2014: Mindfulness in America I

Hi again everyone

This is the first in a series of posts about mindfulness in America, from my point of view, based on personal experience, speaking with people (teachers and students) involved in mindfulness in higher education in the states and on my reading.

Just as I did when I was asked to do some teaching in university in Macau, China I did a whole lot of background reading. I guess this is/was my way of approaching a lot of things including home birth! There is a danger in this of course as I have always had a naive idea – still not completely gone and perhaps that’s a good thing as it does still sometimes come to pass – that all I have to do is pass on the right book to a person at the right time and all is sorted!

I have been reading some great books though  with titles such as ‘Yoga in America’, ‘Mindful America’, ‘The Making of Buddhist Modernism’ ‘Selling Spirituality’ ..but right now the focus is a book called ‘New World Mindfulness from the founding fathers Emerson and Thoreau to your personal practice ‘by a couple of writers I really like Donald McCown and Marc Micozzi (they also wrote ‘Teaching Mindfulness’ and ‘The Ethical Space of Mindfulness.’

I guess I am really drawn to the idea I first encountered in the work of Peter Kingsley (see many earlier posts) who sees the origins of a Western form of mindfulness in ancient Greek times, and that we can therefore find its roots in our own culture rather than having to import another.. ie Buddhism.. something worthy of contemplation …. I feel what I am doing now is exploring the non dual dimensions in both Eastern and Western forms of mindfulness and meditation.. (by non dual I mean the dimension in which both oneness and difference are able to be contained without losing either, so there is no separation between subject (here) and object (out there) and yet a the same time there is still a play of forces and elements, energies arising and dissipating, without the need to attach, or hold on… the more we can abide in this state and allow and accept reactions from the past to come up, come though the more they can be gently dissolved, also the idea that we are already complete, that we do not need to search for what we are searching for is already within us).

I love the way this ‘New world mindfulness’  book includes an emphasis on the silence and solitude of the early American wilderness ‘where walking was a necessity and meditative practice’. I think this connects with the burgeoning interest of walking the Camino trail and a friend just spoke to me the other night of her walk from London to Rome, staying in (approved and accepting) churches along the way. I asked her what led her to do the walks, and by herself. She thought for a while and finally said ‘I think you are searching for something’. Another friend and colleague has just taken off on a very long drive to the West, towing a camper trailer behind, driving and stopping as her fancy takes her.. another kind of pilgramage perhaps.

Even though I went to the New England area earlier this year I didn’t get to visit through one of the areas I was most interested in, that is, the countryside where Thoreau, Emerson, Emily Dickinson, William James and Louisa May Alcott’s dad hung out.. the natural world of the transcendentalists who at the same time had a certain pragmatism much needed in the early development of America and its character… I guess these combine to form something I admire : spiritedness.

This time we plan to visit and walk through this area (it will be very cold I am aware) , including the famous Walden Pond. The book ‘Walden’ was written by Henry David Thoreau in 1864 and about 100 years later the (in)famous B F Skinner wrote ‘Walden II a novel about a society based on principles of behaviour modification which gave rewards and punishments to shape the desired behaviour. More recently quantum psychologist and meditation teacher Stephen Wolinksy wrote ‘Walden III: in search of an utopian Nirvana’. This book focuses on the search in Western metaphysics for ‘logos’ or truth, meaning and purpose, an original cause and by extension a ‘transcendental ego’which he sees as driven by a desire for a higher reality, a Walden, a utopia, a Nirvana, a Heaven, something Beyond, which is not part of the world. Wolinksy does an amazing job of mapping how ideas from post-modern deconstruction, neuroscience, quantum physics, Budhism, Advaita Vedanta, Tantric Yoga, Hindu Yoga and quantum psychology are all coming at the idea of the ‘no-self’ and the Western idea of self as an illusion, but from different angles. Fascinating to those of us interested in this stuff!

It makes ‘sense’ to me in a way because the ‘self’ seems to me to be mostly made up of a bunch of reactions to present events that trigger past events. The task to me, if there is such a thing, is bring the transcendent dimension into the body and nature rather than seeking escape from this world to a better one.

How could there be a better world I think to myself often, when we have such amazing birds, animals, plants, food,  weather ‘events’, the sea, the hills, the rocks, the stars, walks to go on alone and with each other? (Even though ‘the other’ can be a great challenge at times for the conditioned self!)

Emerson wrote in his early book Nature (1836, quoted in New World Mindfulness):

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhileration……..Standing on the bare ground, – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing, I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

And something more ‘earthy’ perhaps frim Thoreau, in ‘Walden':

I did not read books that first summer; I hoed beans. Nay I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the heart or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes in a summer morning I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise until noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sand around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun faling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway I was reminded of the lapse of time… I realised what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.

(I did read the other day though that apparently Emerson’s sister used to take a basket of freshly made donuts to Thoreau’s ‘lonely’ little cabin and they often had him over for dinner!)

I really resonate with these ideas and excerpts during holiday time! and, enjoying sleeping in and morning meditations in bed I  am reminded of the following poem,  first encountered in first year English Literature at Monash University in 1977:

THE SUN RISING.
by John Donne

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

The romantic poets have so much to offer us, still, in their vision of a world beautifully highlighted in ‘New World Mindfulness’ where the mind is not separate from the body, where we do not need to sit in a certain posture, breathe in a certain way or ‘follow a certain dogma’ to be a ‘good’ mindfulness practitioner.

This is not the path for me. I find it refreshing the way the authors say it is a ‘mindfulness book for sceptics, for those who think mindfulness is an exotic Asian fad’.

McCown and Micozzi write of Thoreau’s ‘informal mindfulness practice’. I love this idea which connects with some other terms I am encountering in the non-dual mindfulness literature: ‘natural mindfulness’ and ‘effortless mindfulness’. More of these themes in coming posts… we leave for  Boston, New England on the 14th!

love, Leigh

(Symbolic) Mindfulness and face to face and distance mindfulness topic now formally approved for 2015

Dear friends

This week I had the privilege of working with a small Adelaide Hills school that wants to keep its ‘small is beautiful'(Schumacher) character but at the same time to grow itself organically and sustainably, building on the beauty of the natural environment (with heritage forest) and active parent community, developing curriculum and pedagogy in line with the values and strengths of the school community.

I have decided to use a combination of Lessem and Schieffer’s Four Worlds model (mentioned in this blog when I first began almost 2 years ago) and Angeles Arriens’ Four-fold Way (I mentioned her work here a couple of weeks ago) as a way to help facilitate this action research journey. I was writing then about the four archetypal roles : warrior, healer, teacher and visionary. I think I have had enough of late of being the warrior and find myself more  drawn to the healer role right now (for self as well as others!).

For our first workshop with teachers we did began with  Arrien’s preferential shapes test (Signs of Life; the five universal shapes and how to use them) I found that as soon as the teachers and leader began drawing the shapes the energy in the room changed as if we had begun a mindfulness exercise.  People really engaged mindfully with the activity and we had some wonderful rich conversations, even in the second last week of school with report writing more than looming!

content

Naturally teachers appreciate an activity that is relaxing and centring after a day’s teaching…. but it is more than that as you will see. I will give the description here as you may like to try it as well.  I did it yesterday afternoon in a cafe after I picked up Arrien’s book from the library before working with the teachers (always a good idea!) and found it to be quite a deep process while doing it and something that has stayed with me over the last 24 hours or so.

On a piece of paper,  draw these five shapes: circle, square, triangle, equal armed cross and  spiral in this order: Place your preferred shape to the extreme left and work towards the right so your least preferred shape is to the extreme right.

It was interesting for the educators to do this as a group. I drew up a chart so that we could see what each person and done and there were some uncanny similarities such as all but one of us having the square as number 4! Arrien says the activity can be used to work with individual as well as group development in this way.

When you have drawn your shapes you can read the descriptions below.

The Meanings of the Positions

Position  1

where you think you are
the process that now has your attention
the part of yourself of which you are most aware
indicates your idea of the future
indicates your current source of inspiration
not the most accurate indicator of where you actually are

Position  2

exhibits an inherent strength predominant in you right now
areas of your nature that are currently fluid, strong, and resourceful
reveals innate talents you are using to assist the growth occurring in # 3
most compliments you receive correspond to these qualities

Position  3

where you are
most significant shape, shows your true current growth process
often represents a process that is unconscious or overlooked
indicates where your own gifts can be best used right now
can be the source of unlimited creativity and healing

Position  4

points to past challenges, tests, and circumstances
motivated your current process of change
is motivating you into the core work to be done that is symbolized in # 3
describes situations that you may have resolved or moved beyond
can serve as a reminder of where you are in your current growth process

Position 5

represents old, unfinished business
identifies a process you have outgrown, dislike, still resist, or are judging
associated with unresolved issues you now wish to put aside
not work to which you should attend in the present

The Meanings of the Five Shapes

Circle—Wholeness and the Experience of Unity

Position  1—indicates your desire to be independent and self-sufficient

Position  2—your strengths are self-reliance and resourcefulness

Position  3—natural creativity will flow out of achieving individuation

Position 4 —you have become responsible and self-reliant

Position 5 —may be resisting or denying the process of individuation

Cross—Process of Relationship and Integration

Position # 1—process of relationship is most important in your life

Position # 2—the share journey is currently an effortless process for you

Position # 3—relationship process is occurring deep within your nature

Position # 4—a past shared journey inspired you to value partnership

Position # 5—may want to ignore or dismiss the importance of relatedness

Spiral—Growth and Change

Position # 1—process of growth most important to you right now

Position # 2—easy for you to handle change, whether you know it or not

Position # 3—profoundly engaged in the process of change

Position # 4—were challenged in the past to make significant changes

Position # 5—unlikely to show interest in the process of growth and change

Triangle—Goals, Dreams, and Visions

Position # 1—process of envisioning seems most important to you right now

Position # 2—you carry the gift of vision naturally; create and obtain goals

Position # 3—process of envisioning is essential to your current development

Position # 4—inspired by past goals and visions, motivated in the present

Position # 5—may be resisting honoring your dreams and establishing goals

Square—Stability, Solidity, and Security

Position # 1—stability and authenticity inspire you right now

Position # 2—inherent strengths are responsibility, authenticity, honesty

Position # 3—expressing your authenticity is essential to you right now

Position # 4—past issues of responsibility and accountability motivate you

Position # 5—may be denying the need to be consistent and congruent

Applying the Insights

Tension always exists between the tendencies symbolized in Positions 1 and 5. This tension is sometimes experienced as a conflict. One example: If you have the spiral in Position 1 and the square in Position 5, you may consciously yearn for change (the spiral), but the part of you that is attached to stability and security (the square) may feel unwilling or unable to change.

The first and last positions define an internal struggle. Resolving the struggle means finding a middle ground. Look to Position 3, which often contains the key to personal integration and increased well-being. Whichever shape you have placed in Position 3 is the place of integration where you can synthesize your experience.

The shape in Position 5 stands for tendencies you wish to avoid and represents your current idea of wrongdoing. The shape in Position 1 symbolizes the tendencies that appeal to you at this time and that is your current idea of right-doing. Position 3 represents the field where these opposing forces can be released. It is the place of integration where you can transcend your conflicts.

I had the spiral (1) Cross (2) Circle (3) Square (4) and Triangle (5).

It was interesting as I definitely felt an inexplicable antipathy for the poor old triangle which began to make sense once I read up on it, something there I was resisting!

I chose the spiral as the warrior part of me likes change … however according to Arrien the first shape is only what we think we are, it’s the most surface part. Position 3 (for me the circle) is actually the one that is most significant at the present time, and is often under utilised. The circle  holds promise of creativity, flow, inspiration and  I can see now that I am moving into a phase where I am becoming more drawn to wholeness and a sense of unity and that this is where I need to be for a while. Position 2-  to do with relationship and integration  is a strength I can see that, I can see Position 4 relates to groundedness and responsibility that is important to me, and the triangle at Position 4  well perhaps I have been resisting something in terms of honouring heart-felt dreams and goals and getting a little bogged down in trying to make changes.. it seems much better to be honour the creative and visioning side of myself and be part of creating something new and fresh.  All this came from doing the shape test!

I encourage you to try the activity, it’s another way to work with mindfulness and the mind somehow recedes as it should and lets a deeper process take over…. I would love to hear from any of you via the blog or email or in person or by phone as to your experience and insights from doing this activity. I would love to post some of your reflections on this blog anonymously of course so please email me (see link below) if you are happy for me to do this, and if you wish, give yourself a pseudonym, that in itself can be an interesting process!

On another but related note I wanted to let you all know that the inner world of teaching and learning mindfulness topic that was trialled at my university last year has been approved as a masters level post-graduate topic in both face to face and distance modes. It will be offered in semester 1 next year as an autumn intensive for those who can attend the three days. The rest is online for both groups. If you are interested have a look at this link

Mindfulness and the Inner world of Teaching and Learning It can be done as part of a Masters of Education which has different strands including Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing, Special Education, Leadership and Management and more and it is possible to do  an extended coursework project as a possible pathway to a PhD.

If you have any questions or require further clarification  please email me leigh.burrows@flinders.edu.au . If it is an admin type question I will pass your query on to the right person.

I absolutely loved teaching the pilot version  topic last year, there were some profound, joyous, humorous and scholarly moments! This year I will be also  incorporating some of my findings from my US research and conference trip around mindfulness plus other work from this year…it is of course being refined as I go along…

What a busy time of year this can be, take care- there seem to have been too many accidents occurring in the last week for my liking…

Leigh

Hi again everyone

Thank you much for your comments by email and in person, I am glad to think some of my posts are interesting and thought provoking enought to inspire reading!

Last week I wrote about the four roles or ways of being and how I need the warrior to help me:

*show up
*choose to be present
*show honour and respect
*set limits and boundaries
*be responsible and disciplined
*align words and actions
*employs judicious communication
*demonstrate right use of power and position

This week I have done just that but perhaps more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.

I am associating the warrior today with Steiner’s notion of the will, which is also found in the North American medicine wheel teachings. It relates also to the  Greek word for mindfulness ‘metis’ which is the kind of inner active steadiness and balance you need when steering a ship at night in a storm, not that I would know too much about that!

I realise though that I have been steering myself through a little bit of darkness and bad weather lately … I picked up a book of the Indian mystic and philosopher Osho’s writings on mindfulness today and it is just the perfect book for the situation I find myself in. This often happens to me and I am sure it does to many of you as well.

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Osho talks about  the kind of inner growth or flowering that comes after a fair time practising mindfulness in which you finally wake up and become yourself, unafraid of others. He says that most of the time we are not really present at all, that we are obedient, that we make a Faustian deal to have an easy life but thereby sell our soul.  As an activitist I was interested to read his view that ‘the more alive you are the more society will create trouble for you’.

Independence is not valued while we are alive… our society wants us to be automatic, efficient, productive, not more aware. Socrates had to be poisoned and killed, like so many others. Osho writes that truly alive, aware mindful, alert people have ‘escaped from the prison and whatsover you say you cannot persuade them to come back. They will not come into the prison; they have known the freedom of the open sky’.

Osho says that the whole effort of mindfulness mediation is to deautomatise us. He says that will make us less efficient at first and that in the beginning everything will be in a mess!  Thank goodness, he says eventually we can be aware and efficient!

The flow comes eventually, once we become meditative as our whole way of being rather meditative this minute, not meditative the next.. when we experience consciousness as a continuum, like a river, flowing constantly, without obstacle My  granddaughter demonstrated this to me  me the other morning as again and again she scooped up the sand in the sandtray to let the water come ‘streaming streaming the water is streaming’ as she said over and over….

I took the time to be with her, fully present as she played. At the time I thought she was busy removing obstacles in her own path to bring about flow but I am wondering now as I write if she was also reminding me to clear some of my own  obstacles!.

How did this stuckness happen after so much flow? I think the difficult work I have been doing has been catalytic and taken me to a deeper level but that I had begun to start identifying with the difficulties as myself instead of letting them flow through.

Being very busy- too busy- can bring this situation about, as we need time and space and yes perhaps some inefficiency at times to reconnnect with this inner awareness.

I think I may have been focusing too much on how many assignments I can ‘get through’ in a day, how many school visits, meetings etc…

I am grateful to my granddaughter for showing me the way last week, I am sure it has helped me in my decision to reduce my workload where I can, to know I have done as much as I am able  and that it is time to come back to myself.

Osho’s book has also helped in this self-remembering process!

Love to hear from any of you of course, anytime in any form…

Love Leigh

 

 

Mindfulness and mediation- to assist in school-based conflicts- using four ways of knowing

Dear friends

I find myself exploring the links between mindfulness and mediation at present. I have been looking into doing a certified training in mediation as it seems to keep coming up in my work in the university, schools and community. I have been looking at different models of mediation and it might be difficult for me to find a meaningfuland engaging course in Australia that also gives me a certificate so I can practise!

I have been finding that there are many sorts of mediation from fairly basic forms of conflict resolution faciliated by lawyers with mediation training, to the more alternative forms of dispute resolution which are based on transformative, relational, narrative and mindfulness frameworks.

What the narrative, relational and mindfulness frameworks share is a critical examination of the modern Western idea of a bounded self which is separate from other selves. This self is viewed as an independent, unitary, self motivating and self regulating entity which is fixed carried around by each person, largely unchanged from one context to another.

Though a post modern lens the problem that has led to the need for mediation is not viewed as a personal deficiency but it is seen as constructed within a pattern of relationships and in the case of schools these include institutions, systems, structures, hierarchies, roles philosophies and beliefs.

Of course I am drawn to approaches to mediation that draw on mindfulness practices and philosophies! As with mindfulness more generally I can see that it has the potential to offer mediators so much more than stress reduction and improved skills in focus, presence and listening. I can see that it can also help to cultivate deeper insights about what is happening and what led to the present crisis and create a different type of non adversial atmosphere.

I remember reading once that Rudolf Steiner said that we should ideally be able to look at a problem seven ways at once, I think I have mentioned this before. I also remember seeing a play many years ago in Melbourne at the La Mama theatre where the main character had a hat with a whole lot of symbols hanging on it.She would swing the hat around so a particular symbol hung over her forehead and she would then be that ‘person’ until she moved the hat a little and she entered into another symbolic identity. I remember thinking this was a wonderful way to highlight flexibility and the reality that we do have different ‘selves’ and positions we draw on in different situations and that we are not one fixed entity.

I have been accused in my work in education and various times of being on a particular ‘side’. When I attended a complex and intense ‘town hall’ meeting of a school community recently and overheard negative comments about school staff sitting on the stage I said ‘It’s not easy for them either you know’. The parent asked me a rather sharply if I had ‘gone over to the other side’. I remember thinking ‘are their sides in this?’ but as my work deepened I saw that yes there most certainly were.. so much so that I was soon to be accused of taking the parents’ side!

Its really just that as in Aurobindo, Steiner and Ken Wilber’s integral approach, each perspective is ‘true but partial’ and it is only by putting them together than we can gain a sense of the whole. To gain a strong sense of each view it seems necessary to separate them for a time(just as in the play mentioned above) before attempting to integrate them consciously.

A clairvoyant once said to me that my role was to ‘wade in to conflict zones and get people to put down their clubs and start listening to each other’. I wish it wasn’t my role sometimes! It seems to take so much energy to encourage people to begin to see the other’s point of view, to put themselves in another’s shoes, to be less attached to their own point of view and their own needs whilst working on this for myself.

I do see though as in the Chinese character for conflict that it can be an opportunity for transformation at an individual and school level, that conflict contains potential for moral growth if we bring awareness to it rather than emotion and resistance.

Rather than mediation being a performance of the self we can turn awareness to that self, and see that conflict can be an excellent ground for both in terms of the content of the issue at hand and on the deeper level of realisation. Bringing mindfulness into the mediation space has the potential to allow realisation of our common space and common goals, in this case the desire for a wonderful school to aim high and consciously meet the contemporary issues coming towards it, where it can transform some governing underpinnings.

How exciting it can be when we begin to unlock our self-demands and work for the common good, shifting from a place of positional bargaining to one of genuine operation, with a free flow of information and an effort to genuinely understanding one another’s needs and objectives. It is scarey, sure, and it does indeed involved learning how to as Mindell said ‘sit in the fire’. This goes far beyond techniques of active listening or strengths based practice and involves the capacity to sit with silence, to be present, to experience relational presence. It involves as we know through our mindfulness practice, an allowing of all that arises and passes away, there is an active and passive aspect, a little like the ‘Rock and Water’ program.

For me I can see the role of mediator involves what Angeles Arrien has called the four archetypes:

Warrior, healer, visionary and teacher. She sees these have four different types of meditation:
standing, lying, walking and sitting, something I am going to explore further in my next post.

I need all of these in my work with conflict in education settings and like everyone, there is an unevenness and plenty of room for development!

I need the warrior to help me:

*show up
*choose to be present
*show honour and respect
*set limits and boundaries
*be responsible and disciplined
*align words and actions
*employs judicious communication
*demonstrate right use of power and position

I need the healer to help me:

*pay attention to what has heart and meaning
*recognise the power of love and the most potent healing force
*extend acknowledgement, acceptance, validation, recognition

I need the teacher to help me:

* bring clarity, objectivity, discernment, wisdom
*openness to outcome, not attached to outcome
*flexibility
*trust
*a degree of detachment

I need the visionary to help me:

*tell the truth without blame or judgment
*know and communicate from higher purpose
*act from authentic self
*honouring four ways of knowing and seeing: intuition, perception, insight and vision.

I love the way Arrien’s work on the four fold way brings the four different dimensions in mindfulness. I find the warrior way connects with Socrates who meditated standing up for an hour or so before meetings in preparation for his grounded dialogues, and the healer way aligns with Parmenides’ ‘incubation’ method of lying down meditation for a deep descent. As a teacher I generally use the sitting form of meditation to stabilize and build equanimity. I have also used the lying down form in teaching but more often in personal meditation. I often practice a form of walking meditation and have read and experienced that when walking creative and perhaps visionary ideas can come unbidden.

I can see that drawing on and balancing all four modes can help me in my work in catalysing transformation from conflict with informal mediation and in the future hopefully, formal forms.

In this piece I have had to be oblique to protect confidentiality but as I speak with people and see the ‘sides’ beginning to melt their iciness and concede areas for improvement I feel something dynamic begin to form and feel more hopeful about what may emerge into this space…

I hope you are enjoying the weather wherever you are!

Leigh

Screwing my courage to the sticking place…

Dear friends, colleagues and students

I am impelled to write this evening, in what has become an occasional blog. This is because I need to write to express what has been happening to help in the processing and digesting…. this last couple of weeks I have surely had to screw my courage to the sticking place (Shakespeare, Macbeth) and take action in accordance with my values and principles.

It is not always easy to do this as we know. I could practice acceptance and allow it to all wash over me. However, a respected colleague’s lecture for my relationships topic, on bullying, made me view that role somewhat differently.

He spoke to my students and tutors most eloquently about the different roles in a bullying ‘event': bully, victim, bystander, encourager and challenger. I thought if I don’t take action in a situation I am not happy with , am I an a bystander or even worse, an implicit encourager? I prefer to be a challenger I guess, even if it is painful.

I have really had to make a stand and miraculously, I have found that it has freed myself to  be more authentic, more real, more courageous and certainly more vulnerable, but in a strong kind of way, and I have also seen others become so, or is it just that I can now  see their light shine more brightly?

I have been re-reading Elizabeth Haitch’s book ‘Initiation’. As is so often the case for me, this book is a perfect guide for what i am experiencing currently in my work with a school.

She writes of what she calls 12 sets of opposite characteristics, qualities that are on a continuum and are each needed at different times, depending on what the circumstances require from us:

  • keeping silent — talking
  • receptivity- resistance to influence
  • obeying-ruling
  • humility — self confidence
  • lightning-like speed — circumspection
  • to accept everything — to be able to differentiate
  • ability to fight — to be peaceful
  • caution- courage
  • to possess nothing — to command everything
  • to have no ties — loyalty
  • contempt for death — regard for life
  • indifference — love

I have found this so helpful. Haitch suggests that mastering these attributes means that we can  use them at the right time and in the right place. I can see there is a time to speak up and a time to remain silent, a time to be receptive and a time to resist, a time to be humble and a time to be self confident, a time to act with speed and a time to be more circumspect. There is a time to accept all inclusively and a time to differentiate, a time to fight and a time to be peaceful.  There is a time to be cautious and a time to be courageous, to have no ties and to be loyal to have a lack of regard for death and to have a regard to life, to feel indifference and to feel love.

it seems to me that I have experienced many of these in recent times, and that I have been guided from an inner place to enact these attributes as the situation has required, not as my ego required but as the situation required.

I have also had night-time and waking dreams that have guided me. Its been quite liberating to let these states flow through, they are just energy after all and are clearly catalytic for change and certainly help to rattle a few inner and outer cages!

Strangely there has been a kind of equanimity or unity or oneness  behind the states, that enacts them in a way. I feel there has not been any choice though and I am wondering if there is such a thing in our lives, perhaps we do simply act as we must?

Leigh

 

Two kinds of mindfulness…effortless mindfulness and deliberate mindfulness

Dear friends, colleagues students

Following on from last week’s post on natural mindfulness (thank you for your responses) I want to revisit those in a way by writing about two kinds of mindfulness.. deliberate and effortless…. one is the intellectual path and one is the path of experience…

In a way we need both, at least for a time, since ‘the artificial leads to the natural’ w.w.w.scribd.com/doc/27626668/Ultimate-Dzogchen-by-Tulku-Urgyen-Rinpoche

We first apply the method of mindfulness, remembering, becoming aware we are in a dual state, that is separate from what is outside us, then once we remember and we reconnect with the natural non dual state we can just be aware of it  then when we become aware we have become distracted again we can come back. At times it’s as if we don’t have to apply the method, the state comes unbidden and is stronger and stays longer….

Nondual awareness completely lets go of attaching any importance to the arising and ceasing of thoughts. It is indeed quite exhausting to try to keep track of the aware state! it is better to enter deeply into the spaciousness…..

Otherwise  there is always a  subject and object … I am here and my breathing is there.. or I am here and my body is there…,a  subtle fixation  and separation is still present. Trying to catch the natural state is tiring and why would we bother, as a child we just played and were in the natural state until our individual self, our wanting self, wanted more or something different and we became unhappy.

In the beginning we need the watchfulness until we are used to it.  Once that has happened we don’t need to look here or there, something has been catalysed, jump started if you will and it will gradually take the lead. I am particularly strongly aware of this when I awaken in the morning, this sense  of ‘I am’ coming from with the body, from the solar plexus, with a sense of deep knowing, of truth.

This has been strengthening since I have been working  with a meditation given by Rudolf Steiner…

I say to myself ‘I am’ and feel the response in the brow or 3rd eye,

I say to myself then ‘it thinks’ and feel the response in the throat.

Then I say to myself ‘she feels’ and feel the response in my chest

And finally I say to myself ‘he wills’ and feel the response in the solar plexus.

Then I try to integrate all these different parts of me,  ‘I am’,’ it’, ‘she’ and ‘he.’..

You may like to try it. At first I found it a bit confusing, but its quite revelatory over time. I can see which elements are more developed and which less developed and even avoided. Our family constellation is part of this, what aspects of us were welcomed and which were discounted….which elements did we develop in compensation perhaps?

Of course Steiner education is based on the education in children of firstly the will, then the feeling life, then the thinking life and finally the spiritual life…

As Gurdjeiff taught, to bring the body (vehicle) horse (emotions) driver (intellect) and master ( individual spiritual “i’) itogether, to integrate these different selves is a huge task and one not many of us master. I remember dreaming once after bringing Gurdjieff into my mindfulness research with Steiner teachers that my vehicle was separate to me, going this way and that, moving about as if my feet were disconnected from the rest of me,  ungoverned by the master, which made perfect sense at that time.

I dreamt last night about moving into a new house, with an indoor laundry ( we didn’t have an indoor laundry in our 1870s stone cottage  for about 15 years, now we do) with a washing machine and taps but no hoses to connect the two (in our new  indoor laundry we have taps but no sink) . I see there is something around new developments and something around emotions.. I have dreamt of underground plumbing before (at my parent’s place in Melbourne)  during times of emotional release ….it must be happening again….

Two forms of mindfulness indeed…

take care

love Leigh

‘Natural’ mindfulness?

Dear friends

In what has become an occasional blog (but I will send another ‘letter from America’ as I did earlier this year when I return to the States in early 2015 to conduct mindfulness research in New Hampshire  and present pre-conference and in conference workshops in Virginia) I find myself reflecting upon what I thinking of calling ‘natural mindfulness’.

This is something that has come to me as a result of including therapeutic puppet making and a puppet show in one of my topics at the university: ‘Creating calmer classrooms’ and having a conversation with a couple  of my graduate students as well.

I was struck by the way a number of students appeared to fall into a naturally mindful  state while making their puppet and viewing the wonderful puppet show led by Stargold Puppets for our workshops.

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This perception was supported by feedback from some of the students:

I really enjoyed being able to just ‘do it’.

I felt it allowed me to simplify life and have just one focus.

I didn’t realise how soothing it could be to get fully engulfed by a story and follow the puppets every move.

It made me feel like a happy child.

The puppets created such a wonderful atmosphere ……in the room.

It showed us that as adults we still need time to enjoy making/playing/creating and that all we need is the opportunity.

The puppets were very enjoyable, I don’t find myself creative and I was worried about the activity but when we got going it was really fun.

Fun and therapeutic for us as well!

It made me feel like a happy child.

Enjoyed the puppets, I can see how healing they could be. I also loved making them – we need play even at a university level!

I realised that my puppet (from completely non artistic me) did actually represent an idea I am working with- this stuff works!

I really enjoyed the puppets. I love the freedom of communicating through the puppetry.

It was great to feel the sense of wonder/connection that can be achieved.

It was great for us to experience the importance of play, creativity and enjoyment and to remember how important it is for children as well!

I wonder if I would have been the same had I asked the students to be ‘mindful’,  ‘aware’, ‘present’ during the performance and making? Or might they have felt inhibited, restricted, watching themselves, overly conscious.

I find that a state of inner stillness often just comes unbidden, as if by grace and that being intentional about it can seem desirous of an outcome, a bit like engaging in a technique to change behaviours, when sometimes all we have to do is change the environment and what is in it and people feel differently.

I remember doing a mandala activity for a ‘difficult’ class 6/7. Their teacher wanted them to ‘settle down’, be silent before I started, she was waiting for them to stop talking etc, yet I knew that the activity itself would be settling. I know pre-service teachers are often told they should wait for silence and compliance but I find this can set up an unnecessary power game at times, when we might as well get into the activity and see how the stillness arises, as if unbidden, naturally.

This relates to mindfulness practice as well, when people practice diligently in the hope that one day there will be a breakthrough. When maybe they would be more suited to going for a walk by the beach, or in the hills, or work in their garden, cook, sew, read, garden, paint, look after children, build a fence, grow crops, teach, lead, play, drive taxis or whatever it is that human beings do in their days.

I am interested in Peter Kingsley’s point that goal oriented (however subtle) mindfulness practice can lead to hyper vigilance and to difficulties in sleeping.

Yet moments of mindfulness or oneness can come upon on as if spontaneously… as happened tonight when I went for a walk and became aware of the reflection on the pond and the duck family traversing it and the beauty of this environment. i walked home with light all around me.

Sudden moments of realisation like this as Sam Harris says in his new book “Waking Up’ :

refuse to validate the point of view from which one would meditate or practice any other spiritual discipline. 

As he says, in the deeper states  there is no separation between ‘my’ self and the world around me, there is no ‘I’ who is observing myself in these moments, which are non-dual.

The self is dissolved or in a processing of dissolving  in those moments… but somehow there is still an awareness of what we are experiencing on some level or we could not think, talk and write about these experiences as my students did….

I think in our zeal to practice mindfulness in particular ways at particular times and ‘improve’ ourselves, become more happy, accepting, non judgmental, peaceful, kind, loving etc we may overlook the very experience of stillness and freedom that can arise in the midst of our days when we least expect it.

We can get caught up in a race towards an illusory attainment of mindfulness, that paradoxically can prevent us realising in the present moment in a state or ordinary awareness, thus as Harris suggests, causing confusion.

Mindfulness practice focusing for example on the breath, or thoughts, or feelings, or sensations  ironically has the potential to increase the sense of the mind and body being split as in Cartesian dualism, we can fel we are a subject, a locus of consciousness in the head, which can pay attention to another object of awareness.

Perhaps we need to grapple with these paradoxes before we can let go into a deeper state of consciousness that is non dual, not separate, yet is entwined with our awareness, it is not a cessation of self as is so often desired or promoted but nor is it a separate self or ego, this is what is meant by the term ‘not one, not two’.

Now that we have sat with our mindfulness practice a little longer we can begin to deconstruct its claims, processes, activities, challenges, and see it is not quite the panacea at first thought. Experimenting on ourselves is one thing and on another, another.. ..as I am keenly aware in my innersensing workshops. Experimenting on/with children requires even more care.. since developmentally they may not yet formed enough ‘self’ to be able to make informed choices.

Yet activities such as story telling, puppetry, music, art, games, theatre, sewing, craft, cooking  woodwork, metal work, gardening and more can bring about a natural experience of mindfulness if the facilitator has enough experience of this state and can  enter into it through practice or activity, knowing at the same time that we are not robots and don’t operate mechanically so it may not necessarily happen….

I feel very heartened that we have students about to graduate as teachers who have been able to tune into themselves and experience a degree of stillness and healing through puppetry. For I did not include puppetry simply as a technique for them to bring as teachers in their classrooms from next year, but more to experience a calm classroom for themselves! This seems particularly important in a university and ‘training’ settling, but more about a more holistic approach to higher education pedagogy another time!

Leigh