Video going here – introduction
‘From thoughts come actions. From actions come all sorts of consequences. In which thoughts will we invest? Our great task is to see them clearly, so that we can choose which ones to act on and which simply to let be’
– Joseph Goldstein
Audio – Sitting Meditation 20 mins
Thoughts are not facts
Our thoughts can have very powerful effects on how we feel and what we do. Often those thoughts are triggered and run off quite automatically. By becoming aware, over and over again, of the thoughts and images passing through the mind and letting go of them as we return our attention to the breath in the moment, it is possible to get some distance and perspective on them.
This can allow us to see that there may be other ways to think about situations, freeing us from the tyranny of the old thought patterns that automatically “pop into the mind.” More importantly, we may eventually come to realise “deep in our bones” that all thoughts are only mental events (including the thoughts that say they are not). Thoughts are not facts, and we are not our thoughts.
Thoughts and images often provide us with an indication of what is going on deeper in the mind; we can “get hold of them,” so that we can look them over from a number of different perspectives, and by becoming very familiar with our own “top 10” habitual, automatic, unhelpful thinking patterns, we can more easily become aware of (and change) the processes that may lead us into downward mood spirals and stress.
It is particularly important to become aware of thoughts that may block or undermine practice, such as “There’s no point in doing this” or “It’s not going to work, so why bother?” Such a pessimistic, hopeless thought pattern is one of the most characteristic features of highly stressed states, and one of the main factors that stop us from taking actions that would help us get out of those states.
It follows that it is particularly important to recognize such thoughts as ‘negative thinking’ and not automatically give up on efforts to apply skillful means to change the way we feel.
Video going here
Ways you can see your thoughts differently
Here are some things you can do with your thoughts:
- Just watch them come in and leave, without feeling that you have to follow them.
- See if it is possible to notice the feelings that give rise to the thoughts: the ‘context’ in which your thoughts are just one link in a chain of events.
- View your thought as a mental event rather than a fact. It may be true that this event often occurs with other feelings. It is tempting to think of it as being true, but it is still up to you to decide whether it is true and how you want to deal with it.
- Write your thoughts down on paper. This lets you see them in a way that is less emotional and overwhelming. Also, the pause between having the thought and writing it down can give you a moment to respond to it differently.
- For particularly difficult thoughts, it may be helpful to take another look at them intentionally, in a balanced, open state of mind, as part of your sitting practice. Let your ‘wise mind’ give its perspective, perhaps, labeling the feeling of what arises, with a sense of curiosity, as best you can: “Ah, here is sadness”: “Here is the familiar harsh and critical voice:” The key here is to take with your thoughts with gentle interest and curiosity.
Stepping back from thoughts
It is remarkable how liberating it feels to be able to see that your thoughts are just thoughts and not “you” or “reality.” For instance, if you have the thought that you must get a certain number of things done today and you don’t recognise it as a thought but act as if it’s “the truth”, then you have created in that moment a reality in which you really believe that those things must all be done today.
This liberation from the tyranny of the thinking mind comes directly out of the meditation practice itself. When we spend some time each day in a state of non-doing, observing the flow of the breath and the activity of our mind and body, without getting caught up in that activity, we are cultivating calmness and mindfulness hand-in-hand.
As the mind develops stability and is less caught up in the content of thinking, we strengthen the mind’s ability to concentrate and to be calm.
And if each time we recognize a thought as a thought when it arises and register its content, discerning the strength of its hold on us and the accuracy of its content, then each time we let go of it and come back to our breathing and a sense of our body, we are strengthening mindfulness.
In this way we come to know ourselves better and become more accepting of ourselves, not as we would like to be, but as we actually are.
Video going here – Mindful Communication
Mindful communication (Adapted from Kabat-Zinn, 1990)
Other people can be a big source of stress in our lives. Our relationships with others give us seemingly endless opportunities for practicing mindfulness and so reducing “people stress”. Psychological stress arises from the interaction between us and the world, so we need to take responsibility for our part in relationships with people who “cause us stress” – responsibility for our own perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. If we react unconsciously when we are having a problem with another person, just as with other forms of stress, this usually makes matters worse in the long run.
The deeply automatic impulse to fight-or-flight influences our behaviour even when our lives are not in danger. When we feel our interest or social status is threatened, we can react aggressively to protect our position before we know it. Alternatively we may act submissively at the expense of our own views, feelings, and self-respect.
Since we also have the ability to reflect, think and be aware, we have a range of other options available to us. But we need to purposefully cultivate these other options. They don’t just magically surface, especially if our way of relating interpersonally has been dominated in the past by automatically defensive or aggressive behaviour. We can choose a response, rather than being carried away by a reaction.
Even when we are feeling threatened, angry, or frightened, we have the potential to improve our relationships dramatically if we bring mindfulness into the domain of communication itself. To communicate is to unite, to have a meeting or union of minds. This does not necessarily mean agreement. It does mean seeing the situation as a whole, and understanding the other person’s view as well as one’s own.
When we are totally absorbed in our own feelings, view and agenda, it is virtually impossible to have genuine communication. When we react by feeling personally threatened, it is easy to draw battle lines, and have the relationship degenerate into “us” against “them”, making the possibility of communication very difficult. Locking into these restricted mind-sets, means we cannot recognize the whole systems of which we and our views are only a part.
But when both sides in a relationship expand the domain of their thinking and are willing to consider each other’s point of view and the system as a whole, then extraordinary new possibilities emerge, as imaginary but all-too-limiting boundaries in the mind dissolve.
Even when one party takes responsibility for thinking of the whole system and the other does not, the system is altered and new possibilities for conflict resolution and understanding may emerge. This response requires us to be centred, awake and mindful. We become grounded in our breathing and in seeing the situation as a whole without reacting totally out of fear, even if fear is present as is likely in our real-life encounter with people.
It means that we are willing to see things from the other person’s perspective, and are receptive, willing to look and listen. This allows the other person to maintain his or her integrity, and for both to become partners rather than adversaries, whether the other person wants to or not. In this position, though you don’t know what will happen next, you’ve many more options. By maintaining your centre, you are in control of yourself and much less vulnerable, to harm. If you are committed to meeting each moment mindfully, with as much calmness and acceptance as you can muster and with a sense of your own integrity and balance, new and more harmonious solutions often come to mind as you need them.
The patience, wisdom and firmness that can come out of a moment of mindfulness in the heat of a stressful interpersonal situation can yield fruit almost immediately, because the other person usually senses that you cannot be intimidated or overwhelmed. He or she will feel your calmness and self-confidence and will probably be drawn toward it.
When you are willing to be secure enough in yourself to listen to what other people want and how they see things without constantly reacting, objecting, arguing, fighting, resisting, making yourself right and them wrong, they will feel heard, welcomed, and accepted. This feels good to anybody. They will then be much more likely to hear what you have to say too, maybe not right away, but as soon as emotions calm. There will be more chance for communication and a meeting of minds, and an acknowledging and coming to terms with difference. In this way, your mindfulness practice can have a healthy and even healing effect on your relationships.
The most effective way to communicate with others is by being assertive (rather than either submissive or aggressive). This comes from giving yourself and others equal rights, and respecting both your own and other’s boundaries. Assertiveness involves clear, calm thinking and respectful negotiation, where each person is entitled to their opinion.
It requires you to have an awareness of your feelings as feelings, so you can break out of the passive or hostile modes that can automatically rear up when we feel put upon or threatened. The first step towards becoming more assertive is to practice knowing how you are actually feeling. This may not be so easy, especially if you have been conditioned all your life to believe that is wrong to have certain kinds of thoughts or feelings, which can lead to unconscious suppression of feelings, or alternatively to feeling guilty about what you are feeling.
The first lesson in assertiveness is that your feelings are simply your feelings! They are neither “good” nor “bad” – these are just judgements that you or others impose onto your feelings. When you know what you are feeling and have practised reminding yourself that feelings are just feelings and it’s okay to feel them, you can begin to explore ways of being true to your feelings without letting them create more problems for you by becoming passive or aggressive.
When being assertive, it is also helpful to say how you are feeling or seeing things by making “I” statements rather than “you” statements. “I” statements convey information about your feelings and views, rather than saying things like “You make me so angry” or “You are always making demands on me.” Can you see that this is saying that the other person is in control of your feelings, so handing power over your feelings to another person?
The alternative is to say something like “I feel so angry when you say this or do that.” This is more accurate. It says how you feel in response to something. This leaves the other person room to hear what you are saying
about how you see and feel without feeling blamed or attacked, and without being told he or she has more power than he does.
The most important part of effective communication is to be mindful of your own thoughts, feelings and speech as well as of the whole situation. Most of the time, cultivating this approach will help resolve potential conflicts, create greater harmony and mutual respect. In the process you are much more likely to get what you want and what you need from your encounters with other people, and so are they!
The Ten-Finger Gratitude Exercise
To come to a positive appreciation for the small things in life, you can try the gratitude exercise. It simply means that once a day you bring to mind ten things which you are grateful for; counting them on your fingers. It is important to get to ten things, even when it becomes increasingly harder after you reel off the first few. This is exactly what the exercise is for, intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day.
Video going here – Poem & Home practice
Two Kinds of Intelligence
There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorises facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.
With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.
There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the centre of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.
This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.
– from the translations of Rumi by Coleman Barks
Home practice following session 6
- Body Scan, Mindful Movement or Sitting Meditation. You could experiment with different practices on different days; different times of the day; and perhaps working at times in silence without a recording
- 3-Step Breathing Space-Regular: practice three times a day. Either practise it when you think of it or connect it to 3 regular activities you do or places you are everyday (e.g. on waking up and/or going to bed, before eating, when you get to your desk).
- 3–Step Breathing Space-Coping: practice whenever you notice yourself starting to feel stressed and explore options of responding with greater mindfulness and in a more friendly way to yourself and the situation
- Do the Ten Finger Gratitude Exercise each day – don’t stop until you have reached the ten things to be grateful for.
- Choose a Habit Releaser – some examples below could be..
a. Going for a walk
Walking is one of the finest exercises, a brilliant stress reliever and mood booster. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. There’s no need to feel that you have to rush anywhere; the aim is to walk as mindfully as you can, focusing your awareness on your feet as they land on the ground, and feeling the fluid movements of all the muscles and tendons in your feet and legs. You might even notice that your whole body moves as you walk, not just your legs. Pay attention to all of the sights, sounds and smells. If you’re in a city you’ll still see and hear a surprising number of birds and animals flapping and scurrying about. See if it is possible to open to all your senses; smell and scent of flowers, the aroma of freshly cut grass. See if you can feel the breeze on your face or the rain on your head or hands; listen to the air as it moves; see how the patterns of light and shade can shift unexpectedly.
b. Do a good-natured deed for someone else
Why not carry out a random act of kindness? It needn’t be something big. Think about your friends, family and workmates. How can you make their lives a little bit better? Perhaps a colleague is hard pressed on a particular job and you could cheer them up by leaving a little treat on their desk first thing in the morning. There’s no need to tell anyone else about it. Give for the sake of giving and imbue it with warmth and empathy. Once again, you don’t need to wait until you feel like doing it – see the action as a meditation in itself, an opportunity for learning and exploring your reactions and responses.
c. Do something nourishing for yourself
If you find you are always giving to others and not to yourself, see how it is to do something nice for yourself. This might be taking a nice walk followed by lunch, spending some time by yourself reading a book, making an appointment for a massage, treating yourself to something you enjoy or perhaps reconnecting with an old hobby.
Home Practice Record Form: Session 6
Record each time you practice on the home practice form. Also, make a note of anything that comes up in the home practice so that we can talk about it at the next class.
Download the practice record form here.Home Practice Record Form