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!

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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:

click here

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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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Mindfulness and Health Care

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The modern day working environment can move at a relentless and demanding pace. Increased administrative responsibilities, real time connectivity and the complexity of issues that employees in certain jobs may face, name but a few of the issues that may cause employees to work beyond their capabilities for sustained periods of time. This may in turn increase the likelihood that the worker may experience adverse health conditions as a consequence of their job. Research shows that mindfulness confers significant benefits on health, well-being and quality of life in general. This in turn has significant benefits and implications for people’s performance in the workplace; either in terms of the workers levels of stress and productivity or in the qualities of interpersonal relationships.

Mindfulness is defined as knowing what is happening, while it is happening, without preference. In the beginning we notice how our attention is like a butterfly flitting from one thought to the next. So we start by slowing down and settling our mind through regulating our breathing and counting. We then introduce practices that ground us allowing our attention to drop out of our heads and into the sensory awareness of the body. We then learn to rest in the present moment getting used to disengaging from our habits of compulsive doing. And then, when we notice our attention drifting away into thinking, we learn to work with the mindfulness support of sound to bring our attention back to the present.

We are offering this introductory Mindfulness weekend, specifically for those who work in the health care professions (doctors, nurses, therapists, psychologists, social workers, probation officers etc). Participants will be taught some introductory skills in mindfulness through presentations, guided practice and tutorial sessions. This training will be experiential and is designed as a helpful first step in developing your own personal Mindfulness practice or as a way of refreshing inspiration for your existing practice. There will also be the opportunity to explore the potential for Mindfulness and Compassion in your workplace. In particular, we will explore Mindful strategies to increase your effectiveness as a professional, promote positive relationships with clients and colleagues, and create a supportive network of like-minded professionals.

If you complete this module you can then continue to our Mindfulness Practitioner Certificate Course. This course is equivalent to the Mindfulness Practitioner Foundation course.

This course is being led by Ian Rigg and Tina Gilbert at Samye Ling Tibetan Centre, Eskdalemuir (nr Lockerbie) on September 15-17, 2017. For more information, please click here

-Ian Rigg

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My mindfulness practice: I’ve done something really useless

“Time to recognise the sanctity of the world, of minerals, rocks, river and plants”

-Rachel Corby Rewilding

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”

-Albert Einstein

Many of my mindfulness friends and colleagues are very keen gardeners. They grow a wide range of organic produce: carrots, onions, radishes, lettuce, turnips, and I’m slightly in awe of both their craft and devotion, particularly when I’m eating the results of their toil!

The garden that we (my wife and I) have is very different. It’s really useless.

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From the moment you begin to enter the garden in springtime, a cascading Clematis Montana showers you with its pink blossom; moving into the garden proper, a canopy of Fatsia shades the sun under a wooden bench, connecting to a triumphant Ceanothus Zanzibar arching over a patio bedecked with fern and Hosta plants. This is pretty much the character of the garden: thick variegated ivy, tortured Hazel and a graceful Mountain Ash that breaks into burnt orange in autumn.

Gardening for me is about connection with the Earth, with nature. I can practice getting down and dirty with care, digging deep into the soil. This resonates with a certain compassionate intention to encounter my own personal loam that feeds the lotus: “nature” as the Buddhist writer and somatic practitioner Reggie Ray says, is “relentlessly dharmic”.

Touching nature, touching the earth, the rough tree bark, inhaling geranium or mint, sensing the graceful curves of a New Zealand Flax, tasting cut Thyme, watching and listing to the rainfall nourishing the lawn deep inside: this feels like a profound grounding. I can work here and feel the sun reign down on my back and enjoy how my limbs move and sweat whilst digging or cutting.

Sometimes I find myself resting in the garden, senses open to birdcall or the sound of frogs in the late evening, the flow of being in the garden, responding to her needs and requirements. Impermanence is here and writ large in the seasons that come, go and return. Interdependence is here in the sockless feet that walk over the lawn, taking and sending care.

So, this is completely, wholly, useless.

A short while ago, one of the local parks in Newcastle (where I live) needed an injection of funding. The business case was quite explicit: carrying out this work would bring-for the duration-10 extra but temporary jobs into the park then another 5 permanent jobs into the café and an extra 25% footfall into the Park itself generating 15% more income. It would make it more attractive for business to hold corporate meetings, therefore bringing much needed cash and influence into the town, as a whole.

I wondered, though, what might have happened if the case had been argued for extra funding: because it will make the park a prettier place? I suspect that the application might have been challenged.

It seems to me that we need to strike a balance, a balance between our requirements to justify via strict utilitarian reasoning and benefits what we are working on or doing or involved in, and another reason altogether; that “there is no reason”.

Could it be that we’re so used-so caught up with- use in its strict “benefits realisation” (as the saying goes) left brain sense that we neglect the beauty inherent in the useless? A few years ago, when visiting Venice our tour guide said “I think all the beautiful things in the world are truly useless” and I think he really hit the spot there.

Perhaps we need to realign ourselves to activity without use as a strict utilitarian drive towards product or production; and of course, here is where mindfulness plays its part, doing nothing, being with, creating and sustaining beautiful things, sitting and arriving and becoming present with the rich beauty of what could be seen and experienced as truly, radiantly useless.

How useful is that?

-Graeme Armstrong

Graeme Armstrong is a tutor for the Mindfulness Association who is teaching on our Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course in Newcastle. For more information, please click here.

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A Cog in The Machine? Reflections From The Teaching Skills Weekend

 

“we are exploring together. We are cultivating a garden together with our backs to the sun. […] we are digging beneath the hard and crusty surface to the rich humus of our lives”

-Parker Palmer Let Your Life Speak

 

This year (2017) marks the fifth year that I have been co-delivering mindfulness courses for the Mindfulness Association. I’ve had the good fortune to tutor in York, Scarborough, London, Brussels, Samye Ling and even in my hometown Newcastle (canny like!).

Mindfulness has opened doors into Universities, Public Health Departments, the NHS, charities and a host of grassroots services that it’s been my privilege to talk to and lead practices with.

It’s been quite a journey, and I get the sense that in many ways it’s just a beginning.

But it was when I sat during the Teaching Skills Weekend at Samye Ling with my co-tutors Heather, Tina and Chloe, and I looked out at the 44 new teachers, that I began to see things in a very different way. During the break, I turned to Heather and asked, “did you ever think, 10 years ago, that it would be like this?”  and she smiled. How could one ever imagine?

I tried to do the maths around this: 44 folk times how many times; plus Level 1 folk; then add Level 2; add the years of MSc students and the MBLC teachers; add the various home groups and workplace drop-ins… woah! I suddenly gained a new and fresh appreciation for all of this, and my place, my little cog in the MA machine, the whole impact, meaning and purpose of all this.

In what often appears to be a somewhat cruel and heartless world, this feels like another possibility, a potential; a powerful sense of warmth, heart and hope.

Being a mindfulness practitioner is often akin, I think, to the salmon who travel in what appears to be the wrong direction. And as far as this target driven, striving, data collecting culture we are in is concerned, this direction of travel can seem like swimming against the tide. It’s at this time, when we start to lean into ourselves, warts and all, that we are required to do what Brene Brown calls “Daring Greatly”.

cogSo, it’s possible to see ourselves as part of the MA machine, a cog in the whole, so to speak. I could see myself as this; nothing special, just a cog that does its job, sometimes miss-spinning and making mistakes and sometimes working well.

But I really don’t see it like that. This weekend, something changed.

We’re all, I think, leaning into the same thing. We’re all trying to “dare greatly”. Christopher Lasch called the family a “haven in a heartless world” and I believe there is a resonance here with what we’re doing as a family of mindfulness practitioners and teachers. We’re daring greatly to lean into our difficulties (and this is quite beautifully what I saw on the teaching weekend) in a mindful and kind way. Perhaps this is what Jon Kabat-Zinn meant when he called mindfulness a “radical act of love”.

It reminded me of how I felt when I did this training: anxious and very uncertain; quite worried; feeling I would never be worthy of this. I continued to ask the question- why on earth am I doing this? What motivates me? Thoughts such as this kept coming up in my mind. Parker Palmer writes about this and talks about having the “courage to teach” -daring greatly? And remembering how I felt going through this keeps me connected with a deep respect and regard for those who train to be mindfulness teachers.

Recalling the empathy and kindness shown to me reminds me to cultivate the same in myself, all the while offering it to others. I do this in the hope that it will be passed on. For mindfulness “teaching” is perhaps freighted with a difference to some other forms of teaching, in that it is not something we “do” to participants but a practice with do “with”-there is no separation. There’s more than a whiff of reciprocal vulnerability here which is deeply connective and quite beautiful.

So, I’m no longer a cog in the machine. I see the way this operates now as much more organic. There is a Norse legend of the World Tree Yggdrasil, whose branches reach out into multiple realms of sentient beings, whose roots are centuries old, yet whose expression is right here, right now. Perhaps this is a more fitting metaphor, more real. Reaching out, our arms are branches that can hold each other through this.

Grappling with the full catastrophe of life’s sorrow and wonder, our own capacity to develop our kindness and to reach out and teach or offer this to others: this is our radical act of love.

-Graeme Armstrong

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