Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas and a Mindful New Year

Here's wishing my extensive readership joys for the season and thereafter. I shall be back (applaud now) in the New Year with more thoughts on : mindfulness, (hooray!) meditation, (hooray!!) dealing with our awareness of mortality (bravo!) funereal matters (encore!) and anything else that comes to mind - other than the goddam GFC, Eurozone bollocks etc - "the music goes round and round, and comes out here - what, here? no, here - yes here..." special Christmas prize if you can remember where that came from.

Your Christmas pic this year, BTW, was in fact taken two years ago, because this year it's mild and soggy and looks like being so for The Day. Don't know if our bovine friend would rather it was soggy or foot-freezing cold.

Whatever the weather, have a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Meditation in the Face of Death

Not for the first time, I urge you to visit the Impacted Nurse, Ian Miller. In a large Australian hospital emergency department, he is on the front line of life and death, and it has yielded him some invaluable insights. He recently blogged this passage, and I thank him for it.


Lee Lipsenthal, MD, wrote this not long before he died:

I am powerless in my dying, aware that those whom I love are hurt by the news. I have also spent the last few weeks in pain from my cancer’s spread, sitting up and meditating to distance myself from the mental agitation of suffering. On most nights this works well, as I remind myself that, though I am in pain, this will pass or I will pass, but it will not be forever.

A sense of peace prevails. I am still alive.

It may seem peculiar that I am calm while others in my life are suffering. I can assure you their suffering makes me sad; I wish this weren’t happening. Yet after almost 30 years of meditating, I have learned to embrace optimism, gratitude and the knowledge that I am not in control over my life or death. Instead of being mad at the hand of fate, I am focused on what is going on — mentally, physically, and emotionally — with myself and those that I love. In spiritual language, I am awake.

I have no bucket list of things to do. I have been living my bucket list for some time now, and when I was first diagnosed, it came to me that the real list in my life was not the places I wanted to see, but the list of friends in my life with whom I want to spend my time.

:: Lee Lipsenthal MD- Huffington Post interview ::

Dr Lipsenthal leaves us with a gift of great value, and it ripples out to us, who never knew him.

There's a video clip on Ian's web page, but I've not copied it here - why not go and have a look, and acquaint yourself with the Impacted Nurse himself.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Funeral Directors welcome, sales crap less so

Round the other side of the planet for a bit, as I am, it's cheering to find a couple of comments on the jolly old blog "awaiting moderation." Both were brief and perfectly acceptable, from "funeral director." Generally welcoming to all the variety and vagaries of human opinion, I was just about to welcome aboard both comments and commenter,but I noticed that the words "funeral director" were a live link. ( A URL, as I believe you Internet swots call it?)The link took me to that Internet site that looks at first glance as though it will find all your local funeral directors for you, but is in fact a Co-Op Funeral Service front end. It only takes you to Co-Op funeral directors.I really value each and every genuine comment on me blog, and thanks for them; I don't really value commercially focused spam. Go away, Co-Op. In fact, F**K right OFF.I trust that's plain enough, 'funeral director,' unlike your advertising manoeuvres and feeble attempts to get link through from my blog to your sales drive. Here's a tip, sly boots. Real commentators, ie individuals, sign blog comments with a variety of daft aliases (moi? Daft?) But they use names, not trade descriptions.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Little Peace and Quiet

is what you'll probably be getting from me, for a few weeks, due to hols being taken. But if the worm turns, I may throw out something before December. Who knows? (Er..who cares, you might say, peace being such a delightful blessing.) 

Meantime, look after yourselves, dear readers. You may be interested to know that mindfulness meditation is being used for training Australian physicians to help them deal with stress, burnout and depression. The ImapactED nurse Ian Miller is well ahead of them, since to my certain knowledge, he has been advocating related techinques to his nursing colleagues for years, via his blog:

Well worth a look, and it also includes a handy brief definition of mindfulness meditation, which would have been useful for all those times I was asked "anyway, what exactly is this mindfulness business you're always banging on about?" 

For another way to combat stress, depression etc, see below.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Tao,Buddhism and Mindfulness


The third and final (for now) episode of Gloria on the Tao owes much to one of Melvyn Bragg's excellent "In Our Time" Radio 4 programmes a year or more ago.

The Dao wasn't originally, it seems, a god-following religion, more like a philosophy and a way of thinking and living.In its early form (the "Tao Te Ching") it is a teaching that involves recognising the way the universe works, and following that, rather than trying to force your way against nature. Water is a frequent symbol in the text - if you come across a boulder, then like water, flow round it, over it, under it, to get where you want to be; don't try to move it. You won't smash the boulder, but it will in any case be worn away into a small pebble in a few thousand years. Seems a clear enough symbol to me.

Following the way of the universe is how to live in the world. The people ruled by the best rulers - those who follow the Dao - hardly notice they are being ruled and guided.

Buddhism teaches an escape from the world, from the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. (First off, you have to believe in re-incarnation, clearly, in order to escape from it!) Meditation is the technique through which this escape can be earned.

But in our own lives, I can't see any particular conflict in what contemplating the Tao offers us, and what we can learn from Buddhism. I was fascinated to discover that the origins of Mindfulness meditation were derived from Buddhist meditation techniques, and Buddhism, especially Zen, owes much to the Tao. So there is a line through here from an ancient Chinese philosophical/mystical text, through Buddhist traditions and practices, to something you can no doubt study in an evening class in Shepherd's Bush or Droylsden.

Mindfulness meditation is a training in how to live more of the time in the present moment. To achieve, or approach, a mindful awareness of the present moment and nothing but it, you do need to retreat, as it were, for an hour or so - or five minutes, even. So to this degree, a temporary escape is necessary. And mindfulness practitioners, like followers of traditional Zen Buddhist schools, often seem to favour occasional retreats, for a day or a weekend.

But the state of mind, this "presentmomentness" enables one to deal better with the world beyond the room you meditate in - to move through it a little more like the water round the boulder. It encourages tolerance, sharpens understanding of the situations of other people, helps one to keep things in perspective. It calms.

So occasional temporary bits of escapism enable one to emerge and deal with "the world" better. The little I know of these two great strands of East Asian religious philosophy and practice seem to me to work more as complementaries than opponents.

And in all this, there is no need (unless you want it) for god-centred religion, for dogma and scripture. No wonder a professor of religious studies sneered at mindfulness as "Buddhism-lite." He's right - and that's exactly the point. It sidesteps dogma-based argument, and says simply "if you do this, properly, your life will be better for it." You can do it and still follow a religion, you can follow it and be a nature-worshipping pagan, you can follow it and be a stroppy atheist (though if it works for you, you'll probably be a bit less stroppy, whatever your beliefs.)

So is it The Answer To Life? Well, it certainly helps e.g. with tensions, anxieties, uncertainties and sadnesses. But if it works for you, it's part of ordinary life, not an alternative to life. We all know there's only one alternative to life -  and facing that is also something mindfulness can help with.