Meditation

Dazzled and delighted by life

Nov17

BY JANE REDFERN JONES

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”

I set out early this morning, before dawn.

Walking through the woods I had not a care in the world. The sound made by my boots, the rhythm of my heartbeat and breathing, and the regular pace of my footsteps all filled my mind with soothing input from my senses. At times I was assailed by thoughts about challenges I faced in the week ahead, but when this happened I just opened my awareness more widely to the present moment: my walking, the sounds around me, and the glints of light as the sun rose behind the trees. Then the thoughts would disappear, only to return and disappear again, no more solid than a leaf floating on the wind or the mist hanging over the river below.

If I feel overwhelmed by this world I call home, I open my mind to all that is here: the magnificent trees, the purity of the air and the sound of the wind.

With each in breath I feel that I am taking the whole woodland into myself. With each outbreath my body and soul dissolve into it.

I feel relaxed and totally, absolutely at home.


A billion years in the palm of my hand: Gratitude Stones

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By Jane Redfern Jones

Where did this strange stone come from, all pockmarked with little craters? Did it fall from the moon, or maybe from a star like you and me?

This stone sitting in the palm of my hand could be anything from several million to a few billion years old. That’s hard for me to comprehend. Our time here on this earth is so short in comparison. It seems crazy to be worrying about the past or the future. It reminds me that it is not time that we should worry about, but that the ‘Now’ is the most precious thing.

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” Eckhart Tolle.

Stone Meditation

We may think that we are only made of our bones, organs, blood, and muscles but we must remember that we also have our consciousness, emotions and many other things.

I will often choose a special stone to help me return to my breathing and body and connect with the world around me.

Gratitude stones are so simple yet so effective. I find they help me enormously. They are a simple way to remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have in our life.

Stone meditation is very simple and can be done anywhere anytime (to meditate is simply to think about something).

You may want to assign certain qualities to your stone such as gratitude, love, compassion, joy. The stone could also represent a loved one such as a mother, father, sibling or anyone close to you. Holding our stone we can send our love to that person as we breathe in and out three times.

The idea is that you put the stone in your pocket or bag and through the day you keep finding it there and do a little meditation. When you do it reminds you to be grateful for all you have in your life. I find that it serves as a reminder to keep my spiritual focus.

We have such busy lives it’s easy to forget how good our lives are and how lucky we are.

Any stone will do and it doesn’t have to have any writing on it. I collect stones from special places that have happy memories.

Pop your stone in your pocket with a quick ‘thank you’.

Alternatively, try putting it on your bedside table, so that you see it before you go to sleep at night and when you wake up.

Each time you see it or feel it in your pocket, pick it up and say a quick thank you for all you have, for someone special, and for the good things you experienced that day.

Don’t forget about your stone. Aim to use it every day. It will help you stay focused on the spiritual aspects of your life. After using it for a while you might find that you don’t even need to feel or see the stone because it becomes such an integral part of your day to be grateful for what you have.

A positive attitude can change our behaviour and thinking in a way that can bring peace to our lives.

So go out in your garden, down to the river or beach and find yourself a stone. Choose one that isn’t too big – ideally, it should sit in the palm of your hand.

If you would like me to send you a stone...

If you’d like one of my stones, message me with your email address, a short paragraph about yourself, and how much you’d like to give for it (including postage) and I’ll set up a Paypal transaction. I’ll choose the stone which I am most drawn to for you. I’ll put the word ‘gratitude’ on it unless you tell me you’d like something different (just simple words such as ‘love’, thank-you, or someone’s name). I’ll also add a little note.

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Walking mindfully

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I’m walking through the woods.

Or am I?

Who is it that is walking?

I’m thinking about something someone had said to me earlier, worrying about something I'd forgotten to do, and I have fleeting thoughts that undermine me.

But my feelings and thoughts come and go like the dark clouds I can see in the distance.

It is a great relief to realise that none of them are ‘me’.

Science tells me that the ‘self’ is just a ‘construct', an invention of the brain working to hold together all of our experiences in a meaningful way.

I find that going for a good walk is a great way of letting go of the burden of ‘me’.

It gives me a rhythmical time for sorting out my thoughts; for coming to terms with my humanity - mortal, afflicted with doubt, feelings of vulnerability and clouded with confusion.

I don't walk away from my problems, I simply put them in perspective. I see them for what they are, and don't allow them to dominate my life with guilt, worry or anxiety.

When walking mindfully I can sometimes find it to be a challenge to let go of my thinking. 

So I concentrate on just walking, one foot after the other.

So long as I let my head and heart become clear I know that, later, things will begin to sort themselves out naturally, without effort.

I look outwards, noticing the sounds around me: the rustle of leaves as a squirrel searches for food on the ground; a barge on the canal revving its engine in the distance.

I stop and watch a robin flit from branch to branch.

My head and my heart become clear.

I consciously breathe the air and feel it give life to my  body.

The practice of mindful walking, says Thich Nhat Hanh, is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth. We breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to our true home.


Thoughts floating by...

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I’m out walking and I stop. In doing so I silence the sound of the heather and dead bracken being crushed by my feet, the almost soothing, familiar sound as I walked. I stop near a lake and watch the movement of the clouds reflected in the water. I think about how it is getting dark and that I should get back to the car.

I’ve stopped and I’m thinking...no...it’s not me that’s thinking...my mind is chattering to itself. I listen and notice this chatter: ‘Beautiful scenery’, ‘The colours are lovely’, ‘What’s the time?’, ‘I must remember to call at the supermarket on the way home’, ‘What time do they shut?’ ‘I should’ve brought my coat, it’s very cold’.

Gradually my jostling thoughts fall silent. I become aware of my own breathing and heartbeat. My attention is held by a cloud reflected in the water. I simply see it. I also see all the other clouds. I have no desire to move. I just stand there. Every now and then a new thought crosses my mind. I hear it in the same way as I see the clouds. Presence and distance. One thought whispers “Your thoughts are like the clouds, there are a lot of them, let them pass you by and float away, that’s fine. This moment is perfect. You don’t need or expect anything more than what you are experiencing here and now.”
 
Then my thoughts fall silent.
 
A glimpse of eternity.
 

Staying calm and open to the world

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I'm sitting watching the world go by. I see it change second by second as the mist moves along the valley. I hear sounds in the distance...a car...a magpie...the wind in the trees. I’m reminded that mindfulness is not relaxation (where we need silence, or quiet at least), but meditation (where we are trying to cultivate a calm relationship with the world).

In the meditative state of mind one is simply aware of being conscious at the very moment, or, to be more precise: one experiences oneself as this very moment of consciousness.

There are many definitions of consciousness and the simplest is simply ‘being aware’. 

So, as I sit here my mind flits from one silliness to the next, the same as the bird in the tree next to me flits from branch to branch. It can do nothing else. The main thing is not to feel stable on any one of them. Our minds need transitory certainties, just as birds need branches. 

I am aware that I (the real ‘me’) sit behind the voices in my head, silently listening. 

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, ‘Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.’ This serene encounter with reality cannot be had to order. We must consciously use our breath to calm ourselves and patiently examine our experience of the moment, with gentleness and determination, even if that experience is painful, complicated and confused. We just keep on breathing and looking into ourselves. We accept that which we do not clearly understand or control, but we keep on feeling and observing. In this way we learn to look more clearly outwards, at this world that is also painful, complicated and confused. We learn to think better, more accurately and clearly. If we were all to test these fleeting thoughts we have against interdependence, emptiness and impermanence, we would suffer less, and cause others less suffering too.

And so I stay calm and open to the world.


Your natural life path

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I sat on the bank by the stream feeling the peace of its gentle flow. Some leaves floated by, circling and chasing each other as they disappeared down the stream. I pondered on where they had been and where they were going. My mind wondered to my own life. Where was I going? Where had I been?

We each travel our own journey. Sometimes we feel like we are floating, other times like we are sinking. We are all passengers on the great river of life.

Purpose: Find inspiration in a natural area for meditation on your life journey.

Go to a natural area that you find attractive. Quietly ask for permission to spend time there and interact. Make sure that your surroundings are giving you good and comfortable feelings.

1. Find a comfortable and pleasing place to sit. Preferably choose a hillside, or somewhere with good views. Turn around and look at the distance behind you. For a few moments observe the natural landscape behind you. What do you see? How does it make you feel? Draw a picture a captures your feelings about what you can see. Give your artwork a title.

2. Now look around the area where you are sitting. Concentrate on something close by that captures your attention. Take a few moments to study it and communicate with it. Draw a picture of it and ask it what it tells you about yourself. Give your drawing a title.

3. Now look into the distance in front of you. Use your senses to engage with the natural landscape. What do you see? What thoughts and feelings emerge? Draw a picture that captures how you feel. Title your artwork.

Imagine that your three pictures capture the past, present and future of your life journey. Look at each drawing and ask to understand the message it holds for you.

What message is nature giving you about your past (picture 1)? What does it tell you about where you have been? What have you learned from this time? In what ways is your past influencing your present? How has it prepared you for your life now? Does the title of your drawing tell you anything?

What message is nature giving you about your present? What does your drawing and title tell you about where you are at this particular time in your life? Are there any things that you want, or anything that you need to leave behind before moving on?

What does your future drawing tell you about what lies ahead for you? What guidance is nature giving you?

Draw a map of your life that summarises your journey so far.

Write down a description of your map. What have you discovered:

On a head (thought)level?

On a heart (feeling) level?

On a hand (behavioural) level to do in the future.

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Pebble Meditation

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Find a small smooth pebble and decorate it with an image or words.

Pick up your pebble and smile at it. Consider that the pebble represents space. Put it in the palm of your hand and place your other hand over it.

Breathing in, say to yourself, “I see myself as space”.

Breathing out, “I feel free, space free”.

Recite this silently to yourself as you breathe in and out three times. Space is within you. When we cultivate spaciousness inside and outside of us, we can offer our acceptance and generosity to others. Like the moon travelling through the beautiful night sky we have the capacity for space and freedom no matter where we are. Without freedom we cannot be truly happy. When we touch the space inside of us, we are free.

Adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book ‘A Handful of Quiet. Happiness in Four Pebbles’.