The Dalia Lama says that “Happiness comes through taming the mind; without taming the mind there is no way to be happy” So let’s learn how to tame the mind, lets learn mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced by all people of all faiths and is based upon the simple of instruction of “know what is happening, as its happening, without preference”. Although most people may find that sitting still in silence is the easiest way to engage this instruction, we can actually practice mindfulness in every action that we do, whether we are eating, walking, sitting, or of course dreaming. As long as we “know what is happening as its happening” we are practicing mindfulness. It’s deceptively simple.
One Tibetan master says that we can view our minds like a house and view mindfulness as the tenant of that house. Nobody can enter the house unless mindful tenant opens the door to them. The tenant is very welcoming and even if an angry thought comes to the door and wants to get in, he won’t turn them away or shut them out. In fact he will open the door to the angry thought, listen to it, and then simply allow it to leave. At no point does the tenant start chatting to or arguing with the angry thought, he simply allows it in, lets it say its piece and then politely shows it to the door.
Some people think that meditation is about stopping thoughts, letting the mind go blank or having ecstatic experiences, but mindfulness is not like that, it’s simply about being aware and knowing what’s happening in our minds without preference or judgment.
Mindfulness leads to long lasting physical changes in our brains. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and M.I.T in America have now found conclusive evidence that regular periods of meditation can actually alter the physical structure of our brains.
The brain scans that they conducted revealed that experienced meditators had increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with focussed attention and processing sensory input. The research also showed that “meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in areas [of the brain] important for cognitive and emotional processing as well as general well-being.”
So lets learn how to do this shall we? But first check out this video which sums it all up nicely.
Let’s do it!
The French philosopher Pascal said “all of man’s misery derives from his inability to sit still, alone, in silence” so I believe he would have been a firm fan of the following meditation technique. Any form of meditation practice can be used to help fill the lucidity tank but if you don’t have a regular meditation practice already then you might like to try this wonderfully simple mindfulness exercise called “Settling, Grounding, Resting”.
The following three stage Mindfulness meditation practice is one of the most beautifully accessible but it’s also a practice which contains potentials for deep transformation in both our waking and dream lives if practiced regularly and with pure motivation.
SETTLING, GROUNDING, RESTING
- SETTLE the mind by sitting on a cushion cross legged on the floor or sitting on a hard backed chair. Make sure that you are comfortable and have your back straight. Also, if possible, keep your eyes open.
- Focus in a very relaxed way on your breath. Breathe in a little more deeply than normal and then gently release the breath.
- Try to keep in- and out-breaths equal in length, breathing in to a count of 3 or 4, and breathing out to a count of 3 or 4.
- When you have thoughts just let them go free, without attempting to reject or engage them. Simply leave the thoughts alone and maintain your focus on breathing and counting.
- After about 5 minutes begin to focus a little more on the out-breath. Notice that as you release the out breath the body relaxes a little. This is how we settle the mind.
- GROUND the mind in the body by allowing your normal breathing rhythm to re-establish itself. Stop counting your breaths or regulating your breathing in any way. Focus on your body and become aware of all the sensations being experienced. Just be aware of your body, that’s all.
- You might find that a systematic scanning of the body works well for this. To do this, scan your awareness throughout the body, quite slowly, starting from your feet and ending at your head, then return to the feet and do it again.
- Alternatively, you might choose to simply sit there and allow sensations to command your attention as they arise. Becoming aware of the contact points of your body on the floor or seat, and noticing any points of tension or relaxation in your body.
- Once you have scanned your body or allowed your attention to be aware of particular sensations, then become aware of all of your body. Hold your entire body within your awareness.
- Allow yourself to experience how your body exists in space and is surrounded by space. This is how we ground the mind in the body. Once you have grounded the mind in the body for about 5 to 10 minutes (??) move onto resting.
- REST the mind by letting go of any sense of focus on the body or the breath and simply sitting there.
- Keep your eyes open and give up any idea of trying to do anything. Simply be aware and in touch with whatever comes to you with a panoramic awareness.
- The point of resting is to allow the mind to relax deeply and to let go of any sense of striving, struggling or trying to achieve. It is not directed in any way, but involves simply being in the moment.
- See if you can rest in this way for 2 or 3 minutes but when you notice that your mind is beginning to become involved with thoughts you can start using sound as a mindfulness support.
- In a relaxed way, focus your attention on sound allowing sound to anchor your awareness in the present moment.
- Don’t reject or engage any of the sounds you hear, just open up to whatever sounds are naturally present around you: cars outside, footsteps in the next room, the rustling of your clothes.
- Try not to listen, listening is often goal driven and preferential, instead try to hear, hearing is more relaxed and open. Just hear and be aware of sound.
- When we drift away into thought and we realise “oh, I am thinking!”, then very gently, and without irritation we return our attention to sound.
- Just sit there, knowing (and hearing) what is happening while it is happening, and each time you drift off gently bring your mind back to awareness of sound. This is how we rest the mind with sound as our support. Spend about 10-15 minutes on this.
For those readers who are kinetic learners, it is worth noting that meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting still. I spent over ten years working in the professional breakdance scene and I would often see the one-pointed concentration and mindful awareness of meditation being displayed by the b-boys as they spun on their heads. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that you all start breakdancing, but those of you who do like to move might like to try walking meditation.
Walking meditation is a simple but profound practice and just as easy to learn as sitting meditation. There are many different ways to do it, but here’s one of my favourites:
- Choose a straight path or flat area about 15 to 20 steps long and simply walk mindfully and slowly from one end of it to the other, turn around and walk back.
- As you walk, centre your gaze at a 45-degree angle in front of you (with your eyes open of course!) and direct your attention to your feet. Focus on the sensation of your feet connecting with the ground.
- Just as you use sound as the support in mindfulness meditation, here you use the sensations in your feet and body as your support as you walk.
- Be fully aware of every feeling that arises from walking. Really enter into the feeling of taking each step – your foot lifting, passing through space and then making contact again with the ground as you move forward.
- Let your posture be upright but relaxed. Let your hands hang by your sides or clasp them gently in front of you. See if you can avoid lapsing into a stroll or amble and can maintain full awareness of every movement you make.
- Experiment with pace; some people like waking really slowly, others at a faster pace, but don’t rush, take your time. You might like to regulate your breathing in time with each step, too, but take it nice and slow.
- As you walk, try to open up your senses to the whole experience of walking. While maintaining a primary focus on the sensations of your feet, you can also engage a broad panoramic awareness of the environment in which you are walking.
- Try and practise for 10 or 15 minutes when you first begin and then gradually increase your practice time as you wish.
Extracted from Dreams of Awakening by Charlie Morley