Engaged Mindfulness – Compassion in Action

How can our mindfulness skills help to resource us for making positive change in the world?

There may be many things happening today in our world that feel deeply concerning and huge at the same time. These might include climate change, social and political injustice, poverty, animal welfare issues… topics with no easy answers, no quick fixes, no one-person solutions possible. So what good would it do for us to think about or get involved with these things and get overwhelmed/depressed/anxious/angry, when it can feel like I can’t make much difference anyway?
Fair enough question. But… in this deeply interconnected world, not looking and not acting is not a recipe for happiness either. So as we are practising mindfulness for the benefit of ourselves and others, and it’s worth looking at how we might apply the same principles we use in personal practice to relating to these bigger issues.

In the compassion training of the Mindfulness Association we work with the definition of compassion the Dalai Lama has given us:

“compassion is a sensitivity to suffering in self and others, with a strong commitment to try to relieve it.”

So if we want to grow our compassion and find a way to actively contribute to creating the world we’d like to live in, it might require a deliberate turning towards those difficult subjects – becoming more rather than less sensitive to them. But it’s important to first cultivate our inner resources so that we’re ready to ‘face the mess we’re in’, and the practice of gratefulness is a very powerful way to do this.

Engaged Mindfulness 1Not only does gratitude give rise to good feelings, but it deeply connects us to what we love and therefore want to protect. This love and interconnectedness might be the most powerful motivation to move out beyond our comfort zone – to deeply feel and even honour the pain for our world that we are part of. In the words of Frederick Beuchner, we’re called to ‘the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet’. And finding this  place requires a willingness, an openness and (re)connecting with both our love and concern for the world.

So with this increased sensitivity to the suffering in ourselves and others (ranging from our loved ones to other human beings who may live in a different part of the world or look different from us, have different values or beliefs, as well as animals or even ecosystems), we may again need resourcing to see what the ‘strong commitment to try to relieve it’ might look like. Connecting with empowering and inspiring perspectives of interconnection and bigger picture can grow the commitment to come into action, starting right where we are. No need to save the world alone, but ‘though I am only one person, I can be one person who makes a difference’.

Engaged Mindfulness 2This spiral of gratitude, honouring the pain for the world, seeing with new eyes and going forth, is one that we can move through again and again in small and big ways, as we practice engaging with the world. It’s a tried and tested pathway from the Work That Reconnects which was brought into the world by Buddhist scholar and environmental activist Joanna Macy. The spiral can be a helpful container for meeting these big topics in a way that turns a ubiquitous worry into powerful compassionate action, an ‘outer practice’ which is a seamless extension from our practice of mindfulness and compassion on the cushion.

The term ‘engaged mindfulness’ is derived from ‘Engaged Buddhism’, which refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice. This movement within Buddhism was started by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1963, at a time when his country was ravaged by the Vietnam War. Both the current Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa have voiced a need for Buddhists to be more involved in the social, political  and environmental realm.

There are many ways to practice engaged mindfulness.  The Mindfulness Association offers a weekend course on this topic in Samye Ling on 26-28 January. For more info, please click here.

-Kristine Mackenzie Janson

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The Wonder of It All…

About a year ago, my dear friend and colleague Fay Adams and I came together to film and create the first ever Mindfulness Association online course: The Wonder of The Everyday.

The inspiration behind the course was to find a way to encourage some mindful moments of savouring the wonder and joy that can be found in what many people might see as the mundane.

Or as the writer Henry Miller says, “[t]he moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” So how can we cultivate this same wonder and curious engagement with our own lives so that they might be experienced as the shining miracles that they are?

IMG_3760When I think back to filming the course a year ago, I can still remember taking a painfully early flight over to Manchester and then a train down to Fay’s house, which sits on the edge of the Cheshire plain in England.

While on the train, the sun began to rise, illuminating the fields, the trees and the tracks, transforming them into what felt like a mythical, mist filled land- just like from a story book, only it was real. So, I took out my phone, and moved to the other side of the train carriage to get a picture and bathe in the glow and warmth of the early morning, winter sun.

As I did this, others on the train started to take notice of the sunrise. In fact, my moving seats to bask in the light allowed and reminded others to take a closer look, and soon we were all watching the sunrise together. People started smiling, making eye contact and talking to one another, and the atmosphere in the carriage shifted from a cold dreary commute to a shared experience of wonder. It truly was magical.

This happened because we all decided to look up and notice the simplicity of a new dawn rising. Something that happens in the everyday.

More and more of these moments of clarity happened in those few days of filming: quietFullSizeRender (10) rests on Fay’s couch with books in hand; conversations filled with presence between Fay, her partner and I that not only connected us, but had us in fits of giggles; as well as walks through the countryside to come full circle and to watch the sun go down. The mood was definitely one of wonderment.

So it is that time of year again, and as I nostalgically look back, I am feeling inspired and reminded to slow down today and to take in all that is around me with the same curious fervour. I am also excited to invite you to join Fay, my other colleague Alan Hughes and I to journey once again into The Wonder of The Everyday, this coming January. Let it be your New Year Revolution to join in community with us (just like all those on that early morning train), to look up and take notice and to cultivate some mindfulness in our everyday, as we move about the world.

-Jane

Course Outline

January 15th 2018- February 26th 2018

Live sessions on Monday evenings at 7pm – 8.30pm: 22nd of Jan and 5, 19, 26 Feb

Includes:

  • 8 specially pre-recorded videos by Fay Adams
  • 6 ten- minute guided daily life audio practices
  • 4 group meetings online with Jane Negrych and Alan Hughes
  • Tutor available via email for support throughout
  • Weekly worksheets and handouts

Price £120 for non-members and £80 for MA members (concessions available).

You will receive a weekly email (beginning on 15th Jan) with links to the talk, the audio for the week and the online meeting to be held on the following Monday on Fuse. Worksheets will also be included as attachments.

For more information and to book: please email info@mindfulnessassociation.net

Take a look at Fay Adams speaking of The Wonder of The Everyday (and don’t forget to follow us on YouTube)

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Calling All Mindfulness Teachers…

Are you looking to develop and deepen your skills at mindful inquiry, while creating the conditions for holding and facilitating safe sharing within groups?

Check out our CPD course that is taking place on March 23-25th/ 2018 at Samye Ling Tibetan Centre.

This course meets the requirements of the UK Network of Mindfulness- Based Teacher Training Organizations.

CPD Weekend – Inquiry Skills and Group Dynamics for Mindfulness Teachers

10626544_10152687567030449_1156977106725654252_nJoin us for a weekend dedicated to developing skills in two areas – inquiry and group holding (Domains 5 and 6 of the MBITAC).

We’ll be taking a practical, experiential, and at times, theoretical approach to deepening these skills, working in pairs and within small groups to cultivate confidence and dexterity in group facilitation and natural curiosity and ease in inquiry.

We intend to look together at how we can create a sense of safety in our groups. Flight/fight/freeze responses can take hold and play out in groups settings, limiting where the group can go. Establishing a basic felt-sense of safety together is a prerequisite for participants’ receptivity to learning and practicing mindfulness. This also enables authentic communication which brings forth the powerful experience of common humanity.

We also hope to spend some time looking at how we ‘view’ our groups, experimenting with the idea that if we work with our view, we may find that fresh responses and a new openness can arise within us in the moment when we’re facilitating. In this way we’ll see that a lot of what happens is just what groups do and we’ll begin to see the group more as a dynamic field, rather than simply as a collection of separate individuals.

We’ll be surfacing the difficulties that we all fear in relation to holding a group and inquiry and will explore what works well and what does not in relation to specific situations that can arise. We’ll be asking you to bring with you examples of situations you’ve experienced and we’ll work with these as a group, using role-play to bring a sense of fun to the process.

As a foundation for all of the above we’ll be spending time working with grounding and mindful movement, reminding ourselves that who we are and how we are is fundamental to how we facilitate.

When you book for this weekend you’ll be sent the following two questions to help us prepare and co-create the weekend with you:

  • Do you have an example of a challenging situation that you’ve experienced or that you are afraid of experiencing when teaching mindfulness in a group?
  • What in particular will you like to have learned by the end of this CPD weekend

For more information and to book, please email info@mindfulnessassociation.net

Location: Samye Ling Tibetan Centre, Eskdalemuir (nr Lockerbie) Please click here to book your accommodation and meals

Tutor: Fay Adams and Annick Nevejan
Dates: 23-25 March 2018
Times: The weekend begins at 7pm (evening meal at 6pm) on the Friday evening, between 8am and 8pm on Saturday and between 8am and 3.30pm on Sunday.
Cost: £150.00 for the weekend

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We’ve got Apps!

Spread the News! We’ve got Apps!

It is with great excitement that we bring you the brand new Mindfulness Association apps that have been developed with the hope of bringing mindfulness one step closer to you!

Not only do the apps provide all of the guided practices for our Level 1: Being Present Mindfulness course (the starting off point for all of our mindfulness and teacher training pathways), and a link to resources on our Mindfulness Association website, but it is also aligned with our Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC), acting as a wonderful resource for our trained MBLC teachers and any of their participants who take the course. Participants and practitioners will be able to access the practices anywhere they go from their phone.

The Mindfulness Based Living app is free and can be found on Google Play Store for Android users and the App Store for those using IOS devices. Simply type in the words: Mindfulness Based Living and your choice of practices will be at your fingertips!

For those who have trained as teachers for our MBLC- YA course (our MBLC course for young adults aged 11-18), we also have an MBLC-YA version of our app. You can find this under the name MBLC-YA.

Again, make sure to spread the word! Pass this email on to whoever you might think would like to bring mindfulness more fully into their lives!

rsb92458-b53f8017-f464-48b1-874c-af7fc063aae6-v2

Are you interested in taking the Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course?

One of the features of our Mindfulness Based Living apps is a selection of all of the practices taken from our Level 1: Being Present Mindfulness course.

This course provides an in depth experience of the MBLC course and is a wonderful follow-on course for those who have taken any 8 week program.

However, it is also suitable for anyone who is interested in learning more about mindfulness and developing a practice. We have trained thousands of people and have courses running all throughout the UK and parts of Europe.

Want to know more?

Make sure to find one near you and sign up!

click here

rsb92458-932b6d55-e043-41b2-bb0a-8d1fce411b63-v2Our Teacher Training Pathways…

Have you been considering exploring the option of becoming an MBLC or MBLC-YA teacher?

We have a rigorous, yet accessible, training pathway that follows the requirements set out by the UK Network of Mindfulness Teacher Training Organisations.

Sign up and help bring mindfulness out into the world!

For more information on our teacher training pathways:

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Profound Grounding

A glimpse into the practices that will be explored on the Mindfulness Association’s Engaged Mindfulness course led by Kristine Mackenzie and Fay Adams in Samye Ling, starting in January 2018

Those who have completed the Mindfulness Practitioner training will be familiar with the concept of grounding. The first stage of grounding is about dropping into the body, which is held by the earth. For many years it never occurred to me that this experience could be deepened, that it wasn’t just something you touch into as a foundation for working with the mindfulness support. Then I tried a practice called Earth Descent (led by Reggie Ray) and I was stunned by an experience of grounding that could only be described as grounding multiplied by a hundred! I realised we can drop our awareness down into the earth itself. This might sound like a strange concept – surely it’s impossible to drop into the earth! However we work with our imagination here. We imagine that our awareness keeps dropping down further and further down. Whereas in basic grounding you feel like a mountain, now you feel like a mountain with a huge foundation merging into the deep, wide and vast expanse of planet earth. This feels to me like a very primordial experience, there’s a sense of reconnecting with an ancient affinity or even unity, with the earth, my home. It can almost feel like I become earth, strange as this may sound.

grounding

It can help if we remember a fundamental truth which indigenous societies knew well, but which much of humanity in the contemporary world seems to have forgotten. Human beings are born – are children – of the earth; the archetype of Mother Earth is found in original cultures on every continent.

There is a Native American saying which says: ‘’The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth’’. A different orientation is required to go from thinking we have dominion over the earth, to feeling our belonging as one small manifestation of the vastness of life on earth! How different does this feel in the body?

Sacred Earth Awareness

It’s only relatively recent that human beings live without an awareness of the inter-dependence with the earth as a sacred reality. The level of disconnection from the beauty, intelligence and formidableness of nature is acute in the modern world. How else would human beings be able to be so destructive of the earth? We see the earth as something we can dredge, use and manipulate, rather than relating to her with wonder, awe and devotion and working in submission to her laws of balance. So, these practices are a way of beginning to heal the earth by healing our experiential disconnectedness from her. We are reminded that we are more than individuals in bubbles; we are tiny, tiny life forms amongst the teaming, diverse grandeur of life on earth. If we deeply feel that we are the earth, then we will not exploit our planet and instead we will naturally want to tend, serve and love Mother Earth as an expression of our humanity.

Practicing Earth Descent has, for me, been a way to naturally find this earth connection. It has felt like experientially finding my umbilical cord back to the earth, like coming home to a home I didn’t know I was missing. My heart and body feel more embedded in the interdependence of life supported by our majestic planet. The unexpected response to this is spontaneous love.

-Fay Adams

For more information on our upcoming (January 2018) Engaged Mindfulness course with Kristine Mackenzie and Fay Adams: please click here

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Mindfulness and Concentration

Following a recent Thursday evening online sit, we started discussing the role of concentration in our practice.  Afterwards it was suggested to me that I write a blog about this, as we talk a lot about mindfulness in our training (for obvious reasons), but it’s possibly not always apparent where concentration fits in.

The first thing to be clear about is that Mindfulness and Concentration are distinct  – although linked – mental faculties.  This is clearly outlined in Buddhism where, for example, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are both identified as separate steps on the Noble Eightfold Path, one of the Buddha’s most well-known teachings.

A useful starting place is to examine what we mean by concentration.  Here, I have in mind an image of my 10 year old nephew sitting in front of “his device”, completely focused on a computer game for hours on end.  While he is certainly very concentrated, I’d suggest that he’s not being very mindful, as he doesn’t appear to have any awareness of his body, his inner experience or of what’s going on around him.  So, in itself concentration is not necessarily a positive state of mind, and if we allow ourselves to we can become concentrated on quite unwholesome things.

magnifying-glass

The Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Bhante Gunaratna, describes concentration as being like a magnifying glass that can allow us to look into the deeper layers of our mind, while mindfulness directs what the magnifying glass looks at.  Concentration is a one pointedness of mind, which requires effort to establish and maintain.  When we become concentrated we supress thoughts and emotions; we focus on one thing, and shut out everything else.  This might lead to a feeling of peace and calm while we’re doing the formal meditation, but this wears off after the meditation session, and doesn’t lead to any long term spiritual, psychological or personal growth.

That’s not to say that concentration isn’t important, and there are some forms of meditation that do emphasise this.  This can result in especially obtaining what are called the “meditative absorptions” (Jhāna in Pali, or Dhyāna in Sanskrit) which may be associated with great clarity, as well as feelings of intense bliss, joy, and even clairvoyant experiences.  While these mental states may be used by skilful meditators as a starting block for developing insight, more often than not, people “park up” (to use Rob Nairn’s phrase) in them, and the practitioner may start striving for particular meditative experiences.

When we learn to meditate, concentration and mindfulness go hand in hand, although it is mindfulness that directs the concentration.  While concentration may shine a light on what is happening in our inner environment it doesn’t bring any understanding or wisdom to what is there; that is the job of mindfulness.  Because of this, we generally give more emphasis to mindfulness, and this is considered to be the more important of these two mental factors.

How does this relate to the actual practices that we do within the Mindfulness Association?  When we start our training we generally put more emphasis on one pointed meditation,  for example in the “settling the mind” practice, where we focus in quite a narrow way on the breath, often with the aid of counting and/or gently regulating the length of the in-breath and outbreath.  This can be seen as more of a concentration practice, which can help our minds to quieten.  The important aspect of this practice is that we only do it for a few minutes at the start of a formal sitting session, and not as our main practice.

With practices such as the body scan and mindful movement, we learn how to distinguish between mindfulness and concentration, often using phrases such as “open field awareness” and “focused attention”, as we move our attention around our bodies.

In our main formal mediation practice when we work with a support (such as sound, the body or the breath) we rest our attention on this in a much lighter way than we do when we settle the mind, prioritising mindfulness over concentration.  While it is concentration that keeps our attention on our meditation support, it is mindfulness that notices when we’re distracted and brings our attention back to the support. Unlike concentration, we can’t develop mindfulness by force, which is why in our training we always encourage people to try to let go of any striving and bring a “light touch” to the mindfulness support.  In this way, mindfulness leads to insight and wisdom in a way that concentration in itself cannot.

There is therefore a dynamic balance between mindfulness and concentration in our practice, and this is constantly changing.  When we start to meditate we put more emphasis on concentration, but we move towards giving more emphasis to mindfulness as we progress.  While this is true for our training overall, we can often see this in individual meditation sessions.

Mindfulness has a knowing quality that is absent from concentration, which is reflected in Rob Nairn’s definition of “Knowing what’s happening, while it’s happening, without preference”.  It is through mindfulness that we actually understand what is going on, and this allows us to train in it.  While concentration is essential, mindfulness forms the heart of our practice, and cultivating this will naturally lead to us cultivating concentration; this is why we are the Mindfulness Association, and not the Concentration Association!

-Alan

Further reading:

Bhante Henepla Gunaratna, 2002.   Mindfulness in Plain English.  Wisdom Publications.  Boston.

Joseph Goldstein, 2013.  Mindfulness. A Practical Guide to Awakening.  Sounds True. Boulder, Colerado.

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A Report From Croatia…

Mindfulness, like all other human activities, occurs within a socio-historical cultural context. By this I mean that people’s attitudes towards mindfulness are informed by perspectives and traditions in their community, culture and society. The socio-historical cultural context for secular mindfulness in contemporary UK is, I believe, generally conducive. In the UK, contemplative and meditative practices have a long history in both religious and secular/humanist traditions, usually people are open to new ideas, and media comment and discussion about mindfulness is often serious – although not always!

Zagreb-Main-SquareIn December 2015 I moved on from my academic post as Director of the MSc in Studies in Mindfulness at the University of Aberdeen and relocated to Croatia. I felt it was time for a new challenge in life. It was a big decision, but one that I have never regretted. Now, in addition to teaching and lecturing, I am co-creating and publishing books (http://www.inspiredbylearning.eu) and I have been fortunate to make friends with several people who are interested in mindfulness and who are actively developing it here in Croatia.

Which brings me back to my comments about socio-historical cultural context and to the main theme of this blog – what is it like to teach and develop secular mindfulness in Croatia?

As in the UK the context here is, generally, conducive towards mindfulness. There is interest in meditation, yoga is very popular, and there is a long established Buddhist Centre in Zagreb.  Furthermore, there are long academic traditions of research in both neuro-science and in psychology, two of the sciences that inform secular mindfulness. (The first use of the term ‘psychology’ it is claimed, was by the 15th Century Croatian Marko Marulic).

So, there is interest in secular mindfulness, which is taking root here. Many people have completed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or equivalent courses abroad, or run by tutors visiting Croatia. Professionals who have completed this training are integrating mindfulness into psychotherapy, counselling, sports psychology and teacher education. However, mindfulness has not yet developed in Croatia to the extent that it has in the UK.

Language is an important contextual consideration, and it is not easy to find a word in Croatian (cro. hrvatski) that is an accurate translation of mindfulness. There are a few possibilities: razmišljanje, but this is more contemplation; zamisao, but this is better translated as thinking. The word that is increasingly being used here as an alternative to the English ‘mindfulness’ is punosvjesnost which means ‘fully aware’, which accurately conveys the intended meaning.

One of the developments that I have been very pleased to be involved in recently, is teaching the Mindfulness Association’s Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) here in Zagreb – in the community, in a Faculty at the University with Masters students, and with staff at a psychiatric hospital. Participants are engaging with interest and enthusiasm, although sometimes they find it hard to prioritise time to practice daily. I am teaching in English, despite my twice weekly lessons in Croatian language – my fluency is just not quite there yet!! This is not a barrier to most people participating in the course as English is very commonly spoken and we do translate when necessary, although I have noticed that some participants are reluctant to share with others in English.

Participants have commented that they are pleased that somebody based in Zagreb isPartcipants in Zagreb organising and leading an 8-week course on a regular cycle. As more people complete the MBLC, we are building a local community of people practicing secular mindfulness, drawn from a range of backgrounds. It is an exciting privilege to have the opportunity to be involved in this unique work. One participant wrote in an evaluation ‘Thank you for opening a new world to me’.

We have already organised an ‘away day’ and we have longer retreats planned. We hope that sometime in 2018 there will be enough interest to run the Mindfulness Association’s one year certificate course in Zagreb, with a lead tutor from the UK joining us to lead the course. There are also plans to establish a ‘Non-Governmental Organisation’ (NGO), ’Mindfulness Croatia’, so that a group of locally-based people will be making decisions about future mindfulness activities and developments. I think it will be a real achievement if the NGO can sponsor individuals to complete the Mindfulness Association’s Teacher Training Pathway, thereby increasing the number of MBLC teachers in Croatia. There is no rush however, and we are taking this ‘korak po korak’ – ‘step by step’.

If you are interested in keeping updated about mindfulness developments in Croatia, please ‘like’ and post to our Facebook page ‘Mindfulness Croatia : Punosvjesnost Hrvatska’. Or send me an email and I will add you to our mailing list (david@inspiredbylearning.eu).

Perhaps you will join us at a mindfulness retreat in beautiful Croatia or visit us in Zagreb..… you are most welcome!

-David McMurtry

1 Title: Trg bana Jelačića in Center of Zagreb. Author: Lamasse. Source: (Own work). Used under license: (CC BY 3.0) (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)

 

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