Monday, 7 October 2013

"Unofficial" meditation situations

There's no such thing as an official mindfulness meditation situation or procedure, of course, but as anyone who has taken the eight-week course knows, there are recommended procedures, positions and techniques. They work, I find, no doubts.

But: a common complaint amongst veterans of the eight-week course is that it is difficult to fit in a 45-minute sit-down every day, so the practice slides. Feeling that is sliding makes it harder to get back into it. Whilst acknowledging that "fitting it in" suggests an unhelpful set of priorities if you want to do this invaluable thing, I can see the point. It happens to me, too. Though  you'd hope even busy people can find a moment or two, like this bloke:

Here's some settings and situations I've found conducive to a few mindful minutes, no need to cross legs, ring bells, lie on your back:

1. Walking, if you're alone. Even a stroll along a lane or footpath seems to make it easier to be present, as the hedge or fence slides past and the foot-steps fall regularly. I let my mind stay on the movements - mine, and the world moving slowly towards and past me. If you like hill walking, even better, after you get tired enough! Watch the feet - they belong to someone else, they make their own way, your mind stays with them and on the path.

2. In the bath. Shower doesn't seem to work. It seems easy to relax, let the mind stay with the sensations of water on the immersed bits, and cooler air on the bits above the water-line. (Enough info already, they cried - rightly - but it works.)

3. Doing simple stretching exercises, e.g. a bit of very simple Pilates to get the ancient self creaking along better. You can't do this stuff well unless the mind is with the bits of body you are working on, and it's easy to leave it there, then move it on to the next bit.

4. They teach this on the eight-week course: choose a simple "boring" household task or situation and let your mind stay with it - walking upstairs, washing up, chopping sticks (best to keep your mind with that in any case unless you can grow spare fingers at ease), painting a wall. It transforms something you think is tedious and for which you don't have time into something doubly productive.

5. Oddly enough, driving sometimes works. (Never, of course, listen to a meditation CD whilst you are driving.) Not in heavy traffic, not if you don't know the road and are worrying about directions, but on a familiar road, the need for the body and part of the mind to do the driving stuff and be alert seems to help me stay in the moment. The world rolls towards you, the mind stays in it.

6. Music doesn't necessarily help. It can, in our daily lives, be too often a mild background distraction. But I remember the first time, last year, I heard the opening of Bach's B Minor Mass on good equipment at a sensible volume: it riveted me to the moment for 12 minutes plus - I was totally in the music, which meant in the moment. I hope that doesn't sound pseudo - it could have been Radiohead or Tricky, take your pick - it just needed to be, for me, unfamiliar, sublime and demanding. A couple of years ago I wrote about watching Bellowhead in the rain at Cropredy Festival - same presentmomentness, though much as admire Jon Boden, he's not sublime. Or is he?? And in me yoof I remember watching Eric Clapton with John Mayall playing "Have You Heard," in a small London club, and time stood still. Familiarity has taken that from me, and just left the emotional intensity. But I digress. As so often.

So: I suggest finding some frequent activity and using that as a mindful few minutes, when you think you haven't time for the full body scan.

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