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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Awareness vs 'afflicted mind' - Why I teach mindfulness, not meditation

I teach mindfulness but not meditation and usually I practise mindfulness but not meditation. I think the distinction is important.

Knowing you are aware

In mindfulness, you are not only aware of what is going on but  you know that you are aware.  It's like the difference between walking and knowing  that you are walking. The knowing is what makes the difference when it comes to mindfulness. Mindfulness is something we naturally dip in and out of.  When you deliberately practise mindfulness you try to be mindful more often.  In my opinion it cannot do harm and is an asset worth cultivating.

Longer time

In meditation you focus your attention on an object such as your breath over a period of time, say twenty minutes.  This can lead to:

  • a sense of calm 
  • or of restlessness 
  • or what what Buddhist meditators sometimes call 'afflicted' mind.

Afflicted mind

In 'afflicted mind' painful thoughts, emotions and memories arise. That's why I have real doubts about introducing meditation to groups of strangers - in the workplace for instance - about whom I know nothing and who I may never see again: I don't want to leave anyone to cope with that 'afflicted mind.'

But I am happy to introduce mindfulness itself to anyone - it is immediately beneficial and doesn't do harm.

(These thoughts were prompted by an article in Tricycle Magazine called The Mindfulness Solution by Andrew Olendzki, author of Unlimiting Mind and director of the Barre Centre for Buddhist Studies. The article is probably only accessible if you have a subscription to Tricycle).

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Bombu nature - Are you going to get it wrong? Oh yes!

You've probably never heard of “bombu nature” before but it’s a concept that can help you to cultivate mindful self-acceptance.

The word “bombu” is drawn from Buddhism. The idea of bombu nature is that we can never get things completely right, we can never achieve the highest levels of excellence, we can never be those shiny perfect beings that we seem to want to be.

Stumble & croak

We walk but we stumble, we sing but we croak, we are virtuous but we are also sinners.

  • You set out to impress your partner and you end up making a fool of yourself. Bombu nature. 
  • You promise, in a fit of virtue, to get up at six every morning and run in the park but instead you turn around and stay in bed until 10. Bombu nature. 
  • You have read the great books about how to be happy but, somehow, you never implement their excellent advice. Bombu nature.

Accept & laugh

When you accept that you have bombu nature you can stop judging yourself against a standard of excellence that is almost impossible to meet. You can learn to laugh at yourself instead of condemning yourself. You even learn to laugh at other people’s failings instead of condemning them.

So an awareness of our bombu nature can be very liberating. And it doesn't have to be an excuse for being slovenly, lazy, irresponsible and so on: it’s about being an accepting and understanding friend to yourself.

Acceptance really needs to include acceptance of ourselves as well as others or it is an incomplete acceptance. Recognising the bombu nature in ourselves and in others can help us to cultivate that acceptance.

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Monday, 15 February 2016

You don’t have to believe everything your mind tells you

Do you believe everything your mind tells you? If so, how many disasters has your mind warned you against that actually never happened? And how many things have gone wrong that your mind neglected to warn you about? How often has your mind told you to be angry about something that really didn’t matter in the scheme of things - or to be afraid of something that turned out perfectly well? Mindfulness changes our relationship with experience and a chattering mind is an ever-present experience for most of us.

The insight that I don’t have to believe everything my mind tells me has been a liberating aspect of mindfulness for me. This is especially so when my mind is telling me I ought to be upset, angry or fearful about something that I will have forgotten in an hour’s time. My mind also creates all sorts of hobgoblins about the future but the fact is I haven’t a clue what the future will be like. And that applies whether that future is in a couple of hours’ time or a couple of decades’ time. A certain amount of planning is, of course, sensible - but the hobgoblins don’t help with that anyway. Once again, reminding myself that I don’t have to believe everything my mind tells me helps me to plan for the future without drama.    

Next time you feel yourself getting uptight about something, remind yourself that you don’t have to believe everything your mind tells you. Move at least some of your attention onto your breathing and experience the effect.

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Thursday, 28 January 2016

The best mindfulness research resource on the web

The American Mindfulness Research Association is a terrific resource for anybody involved in promoting or researching mindfulness. Its Mindfulness Research Monthly appears in PDF format and lists many research projects on mindfulness together with links to the publications in which the research is reported and it also highlights some of the studies.

Its news section reports on a very wide variety of areas in which mindfulness has been studied. These recent headlines will give you an idea of just how wide scope is:

"Mindfulness practice found to benefit drug-resistant epileptics."
"Mindful awareness programme offered to elite athletes on the USA cycling team."
"Veterans report reduced PTSD symptoms after a mindfulness meditation program."
"Brain imaging study of adolescents
links cortical changes and mindfulness."

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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Why mindfulness in the workplace? What the Mindful Nation UK report says.

More and more organisations are introducing mindfulness to their wellbeing programs but what are the benefits and who is doing it? 

Here is a good summary from the Mindful Nation UK report produced last year by an all-party parliamentary group at Westminster (MBI's refers to mindfulness-based initiatives):

"A number of randomised controlled trials of MBI's have found positive effects on burnout, wellbeing and stress. Mindfulness can assist with focus and a range of cognitive skills. Studies have shown that those using mindfulness report lower levels of stress during multi-tasking tests and are able to concentrate longer without their attention being diverted. 

"Even brief periods of mindfulness practice can lead to objectively measured higher cognitive skills such as improved reaction times, comprehension scores, working memory functioning and decision-making."

Among those who have introduced mindfulness training in the UK and US, according to the report, are:

Teacher employers (University of Toronto)
Fire services in the US
Judges in the US
National Health Service
Department of Health
British Telecom
Goldman Sachs
Transport for London
Surrey & Sussex Police Force

The report notes that mindfulness is not the answer to a dysfunctional or toxic workplace. But most workplaces are neither toxic nor dysfunctional and mindfulness has a big contribution to make to employee wellbeing.

You can get the Mindful National UK report (pdf) at this link.