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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive — for this exercise I am indebted to Eknath Easwaran‘s excellent and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life

Among the advice he gives is this (Pages 39-40):

In meditation, the passage becomes imprinted on our consciousness. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. . . . . As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating. . . . . And avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and difficult view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw for our positive side, our higher Self, and the passages should move you to become steadfast, compassionate, and wise.

KYTS Following the Word

Because I am aware that not everyone would connect with Bahá’í Scripture, clearly we can choose any positive passage to which we strongly resonate.

How to Learn Passages:

There is a method I have found useful to help with memorising. I have adapted it from a method for memorising poetry. I sorry to say that I have no record of whose original idea I have borrowed here.

This is the method:

  1. Read the passage once. Then divide it into convenient short sections, each equivalent to a line of poetry.
  2. Now read the first section out loud. Take your eyes from the page & immediately say the section again. Glance back to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake try again. Now do the same with the second section. Repeat the procedure for every section in the passage.
  3. Go back to the beginning. This time, read the first two sections out loud, look away and repeat them aloud. Check. If you made a mistake, try again. Now move onto the next two sections, going through the whole passage two sections at a time.
  4. Repeat the passage three lines at a time, then four lines at a time, then five and then six. By the sixth pass, no matter how long the passage, you will have memorised it.
  5. Recite the whole passage just before going to bed at night.
  6. Crucial: stop thinking about the passage. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory.
  7. The next day, you should find (after a glance at the first line to bump-start your memory) that you can recite the whole passage.

In using this method I have found it important, if I am to retain the whole passage permanently, I need to slowly reduce the frequency of repeating it over a reasonable period of time. At first, perhaps for a week, I repeat it every night. Then every other, then every third night and so on until I repeat it only once per week. I can then choose to use it whenever I wish in my daily meditations. It is important to keep it fresh by revisiting it occasionally, may be once every month or two in this way.

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3 brain awareness v4

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive — I called it Remembrance because it resembles the Sufi practice of Dhikr or zikr.

KYTS Remembrance

 

Because I was aware that not everyone would connect with this phrase, I tweaked the exercise so that people could choose a word or phrase that they felt expressed the highest good they good imagine.

Bahai Mantra

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For source of adapted image see link

For source of adapted image see link

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day in one form or another. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, is one of the exercises that I used to help the words come alive.
Unhooking Ourselves

 

More recently I reformatted this for a workshop I was running: it looks prettier and is possible easier to read.

disidentification-exercise

 

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nirvana-buddha

As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, unedited apart from the removal of my then contact details, is the introduction. I haven’t changed the wording even though those of you who  are reading this may be thousands of miles away and therefore unable to ever attend any workshop on this topic I ever run again, but the spirit of it holds. Without trying the exercises the words won’t really come alive.

In devising the exercises I drew on Buddhist, psychosynthesis, mindfulness, existential, and meditation practices. (I know Buddhists explain that there is no self, but I’ve covered that one in detail elsewhere and that debate is not important here!) Where I remember the exact source I will try to acknowledge it.

KYTS Spiel1KYTS2

 

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I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This includes poems such as the one below. 

Winter Song v6

 

 

 

 

 

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© Bahá’í World Centre

© Bahá’í World Centre

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This sequence of two posts was first published in 2010 and is preparing the way for a lengthy consideration of Jeremy Rifkin’s book on empathy and civilisation. 

I’m sorry about the rhyming title. I just couldn’t resist it. There’s no more poetry in the rest of this post, I promise, not even in a book title. Now back to the theme.

The distinctive virtue or plus of the animal is sense perception; it sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels but is incapable, in turn, of conscious ideation or reflection which characterizes and differentiates the human kingdom. The animal neither exercises nor apprehends this distinctive human power and gift. From the visible it cannot draw conclusions regarding the invisible, whereas the human mind from visible and known premises attains knowledge of the unknown and invisible.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace)

We’ll come back to the issue of reflection in a moment.  As I said at the end of the previous post, I find I believe Rifkin when he writes:

The more deeply we empathise with each other and our fellow creatures, the more intensive and extensive is our level of participation and the richer and more universal are the realms of reality in which we dwell.

This could be easier said than done. As Bahá’u’lláh observes (Tablets: page 164):

No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united.

So, given that I have explored this problem repeatedly from the Bahá’í point of view in this blog and don’t want to rehearse it all again here, from within the same realms of discourse as they inhabit, how do we put the experiences Parks is describing together with the ideas that Rifkin develops?

MindsightWell, I’ve found someone who seems to have found one way of doing that: Daniel Siegel in his book Mindsight. This is not to be confused with Ken Ring‘s concept which he developed to explain how blind people see in near death experiences.

Siegel’s idea is less exotic and of considerable use in daily life. It also corresponds to the experience many people, including Bahá’ís, might have as they struggle to enact the values and practices of their religion.

What he does is root such experiences in the body – well, in the brain to be more exact – and show how the changes that we can bring about by mindfulness, a powerful form of meditation, impact on our relationships with others, even those well beyond the small circle of family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues.

 

Siegel locates in the frontal area of the brain a number of crucial mental powers, which he feels are key to the development of what he calls mindsight. In his view there are nine such powers and they include, most importantly from the point of view of the current discussion, emotional balance, empathy, insight, moral awareness and intuition (pages 26-29).

They underpin our capacity to reflect (something I have explored often on this blog – see link for an example) which (page 31) ‘is at the heart of mindsight.’ Reflection entails three things: openness, meaning being receptive to whatever comes to awareness without judging it in terms of what we think it should be; observation, meaning the capacity to perceive ourselves and our inner processes at the same time as we are experiencing the events unfolding around us; and objectivity, meaning the ability to experience feelings and thoughts without be carried away by them (page 32). Reflection enables us to reconnect with earlier problem experiences which we want to understand better without falling (page 33) ‘back into the meltdown experience all over again.’

We soon begin to see how this change in our mental scenery can change our external scenery. He goes on to explain (page 37):

With mindsight our standard is honesty and humility, not some false ideal of perfection and invulnerability. We are all human, and seeing our minds clearly helps us embrace that humanity within one another and ourselves.

Just as Schwartz does in his book The Mind & the Brain (see earlier post), Siegel emphasises (page 39) that ‘[m]ental activity stimulates brain firing as much as brain firing creates mental activity’ and lasting changes in brain structure can and do result.

He looks at the work on mirror neurons (page 61) before concluding that (page 62) the better we know our own state of mind the better we know that of another person. We feel the feelings of others by feeling our own. This explains why ‘people who are more aware of their bodies have been found to be more empathic.’ And we seem to have some support here for the value in terms of empathy that Rifkin places on being embodied (see previous post).

This is not the same as navel-gazing. The result of reflection in this sense, and based on the processes he Master and Emissaryillustrates with fascinating examples from his clinical work and personal life, is something he calls integration (page 64). He defines it as ‘the linkage of differentiated elements.’ He sees it operating across eight domains including horizontally between the left brain and the right, the territory McGilchrist explores.

Particularly intriguing and illuminating is his discussion of the domain of memory (pages 73 and pages 149-151 as well as elsewhere). I have rarely read as clear an exposition of the crucial role implicit memory plays in our daily lives and almost always outside our awareness.  Implicit memory, he explains (page 150), has three unique features: first of all, you don’t need to pay attention or have any awareness to create an implicit memory; moreover, when such a memory emerges from storage you don’t feel as though it is being recalled from the past, and, lastly, it doesn’t necessarily engage the part of the brain that works on storing and organising episodic memories. These implicit memories influence almost everything we do but we are unaware of that influence unless we make special efforts to surface it.

When these memories are appropriate and helpful they are not a problem and it doesn’t really matter whether we notice them or not. Sometimes though they get in the way of responding constructively to current reality. He argues (page 153) that we can use mindsight to ‘begin to free ourselves from the powerful and insidious ways’ they shape our perception of what’s going on around us. We can integrate them into a conscious and coherent account of ourselves.

Robert WrightTo cut a long and fascinating story short (I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who wants to explores these ideas in more depth) this leads to a strong link with Rifkin’s case (page 260):

Seeing the mind clearly not only catalyses the various dimensions of integration as it promotes physical, psychological, and interpersonal well-being, it also helps to dissolve the optical delusion of our separateness. We develop more compassion for ourselves and our loved ones, but we also widen our circle of compassion to include other aspects of the world beyond our immediate concerns.  . . . [W] see that our actions have an impact on the interconnected network of living creatures within which we are just a part.

His view here seems to map closely onto Robert Wright‘s contention that, if we are to meet the needs of the age, we have to expand our moral imagination. As Siegel expresses it on the previous page to this quote: ‘We are built to be a we.’  I couldn’t agree more. And what’s even better, he explains, in straightforward ways that I can relate to both as a psychologist and as a Bahá’í, how we can start to bring that state of being into our daily reality.

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Mindful Eye v3

Adapted from ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by René Magritte (from Magritte by Marcel Paquet, Taschen Edition)

Another well-timed alert from Barney pointed me in the direction of yet another article relating to this week’s preoccupation – the undertow of subliminal sadness. Emma Barnett comments at one point:

It also jars that an essentially peaceful practice is being used to help train soldiers to kill with greater precision, as well as cope with debilitating PTSD at the other end of combat.

This amputation of a spiritual practice from its ethical base and transcendent roots, turning it into a tool for an immoral machine, strikes me as both cynical and naïve at the same time. 

Her comment reminded me of a programme I saw some years ago, similar to this archive one from 1990 but going into far more detail about the preparations for the Falklands War: because it is well recorded that significant numbers, maybe even the majority of soldiers are unwilling to shoot to kill at least to begin with, according to the documentary I saw the Army called in psychologists to create a training programme that made firing to kill an almost automatic reaction. I felt ashamed of my professional colleagues for what they were complicit in.

This lethal facility was drilled in by repeated practice in carefully designed and vivid scenarios. What the trainers, and those higher up the chain of command, failed to take into account was that many of the soldiers who went to the Falklands and killed effectively as a result of this pre-programming would be traumatised by what resulted from their actions. Ex-soldiers are still paying the price of that miscalculation.

Barnett’s piece raises the question as to whether companies are seeking to use this spiritual practice in a similar way in an attempt to habituate us to the toxic pressures of what are in fact unmanageable work environments.  

Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

How does your mind feel? Slowly revving back up after the festive fug of Christmas?

Chances are, in the slew of “New Year New You” suggestions, you will have read about mindfulness. Indeed, it was pretty hard to get through last year without noticing it. The meditative practice, which has its roots in Buddhism and encourages you to focus on the present, rather than on the anxieties of the past or future, is now everywhere. Schools, law firms, banks, governments, the US military… they are all offering mindfulness sessions to staff.

I’ve tried it, and I failed abysmally in my quest to achieve mental peace. But, in the course of making a documentary on the subject, I have also attempted to understand it. Over the past two months, I have visited projects and spoken to doctors, practitioners – even Buddhists – in a bid to figure out how it moved from the mountains of Burma to the Hollywood Hills where it has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

It’s also a successful industry. Growing amounts of research indicate that as a cognitive therapy, it works. NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) backs it as a treatment for those with recurring depression; indeed, it has been proven to reduce the recurrence rate by 40-50 per cent over 12 months. Thirty per cent of British GPs now refer patients at war with their thoughts for mindfulness-based treatment.

But regardless of how successful it is or where it comes from, all those hours spent trying to be mindfully quiet have left me feeling profoundly depressed. Anyone attempting a quick fix, like I was (admittedly I was only giving it five minutes in the dark before bedtime) has missed the bigger, scarier point: why are so many of us living lives we feel unable to cope with? How is it that we are so unhappy with our lots that we will willingly sit cringing in a room with our colleagues while remembering to breathe?

The Mental Health Foundation estimates that one in four people will experience a mental health problem every 12 months. Work related stress is estimated to cost British businesses more than a whopping three billion pounds per annum. And here lies the problem.

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