This week we will:
Its lovely to welcome you back. Last week we introduced you to the first of our mindful practices ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’. We hope you’ve had an opportunity to set aside some time each day to begin trying the practice, and would love to hear how you’ve got on.
“Our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind”
Thich Nhat Hanh
So, why begin with the breath? The most common way to start a practice like meditation is to find something simple to focus on. Our breath is something that is always with us, it’s an integral part of living and without the nourishment it provides, we simply couldn’t survive. Crucially it does not need us to make it happen, the breath breathes itself, and so reminds us that at the core of our being, there is this process happening that is not reliant on who we are or what we’re doing moment to moment, it just is what it is and does what it does. Our breath is therefore a simple natural motion that can allow us to ground ourselves in the here and now, providing the perfect anchor for your attention to return to as and when your mind begins to wander.
As we mentioned last week, mindfulness is a skill that requires a gentle but consistent approach in order to improve the practice of quietening the ‘monkey mind’. It’s therefore important to make that commitment to yourself and set aside a small amount of time each day to allow yourself to be still and quiet, and to give attention to the breath and to what is arising for you moment to moment. That said, it’s also important to not beat yourself up should you miss your practice, or become frustrated or impatient if your mind continues to wander during sitting. Kindness, non-judgement and the art of allowing are crucial here, and key to cultivating more compassion and gentleness towards ourselves.
Each time we sit we have no way of knowing what our experience will be, what will come up for us or where our feelings and emotions are at. When we simply let go of striving and allow whatever experience is with us at that moment in time, without judgement, denial or trying to change it or push it away, we begin to cultivate the art of allowing and start to strengthen our capacity for present moment attention.
I often find encouragement in the words of Zen Buddhist and mindfulness teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, and share here her thoughts on the practice of ‘sitting’:
“Practice is actually very simple and ‘sitting’ is essentially a simplified space. Our daily life is in constant movement: lots of things going on, lots of people talking, lots of events taking place. In the middle of all that it’s very difficult to get a sense of what we are in our life. When we simplify things, and take ourselves away from the external distractions, we get a chance – which is absolutely the most valuable thing there is – to face ourselves. Meditation is not about some perfect state, but about the meditator. It’s not about an activity, or fixing something, or accomplishing something, it’s about ourselves. We just sit and experience it all moment to moment. Feel your breath come and go, don’t try to control it. Notice your body and its myriad sensations and just experience it as it is. You hear a car go past, just hear it without clinging to it or getting into a story about it, if a plane flies over, notice it…thoughts will arise in your mind, just notice them, and then return your attention to your breath and allow them to be. That’s all you need to do, experience whatever arises and just allow it all to be. If you can do just that for 2 or 3 minutes, that’s miraculous!”
Mindfulness Practice 2 – Walking Meditation and Mindful Walking
Time: as long as you wish!
This week we introduce the practice of mindful walking and walking meditation. The practices differ slightly and I will attempt to explain this here. When we explore mindfulness we recognize there are both formal and informal practices that we can introduce into our lives. When we set time aside to focus exclusively on cultivating mindfulness we are practicing in a formal manner, so for example, the sitting and breathing exercise from last week. Informal practice refers to cultivating more mindful awareness to our day to day movements and processes as we go about our daily lives.
Walking Meditation can act as a gentle bridge between formal and informal practice. It retains the focus and awareness of the breathing practice, but allows us to bring in the additional dimension of movement, changing our experience from the sense of being held and rooted to the earth when sitting, to the awareness and connection of our feet navigating the ground beneath us.
To help you get started you can find a video demonstration of the walking meditation practice below
To begin with find a space in your home or garden large enough to take around 10-15 short paces in a line. You’re welcome to wear shoes or be barefoot, which can be more fun and adds to the sensory experience of connecting with the earth beneath you! Start to ground yourself by taking a couple of slow deep breaths and then gently and slowly lift your first foot off the ground and place it gently down in front of you. The idea is to walk at a slow controlled pace, to feel and experience every moment associated with walking, lifting your foot from the floor, bending your knee and extending your leg forward to place your foot down again in front of you. To start with this can feel incredibly challenging and abnormal. Day to day we take the action of walking for granted, it’s an automatic movement we’ve grown and learnt from childhood, to a point where we no longer need to think about it. This exercise is about returning awareness to how we move our bodies, and to cultivate a deeper gratitude for the wonder that walking gifts us day by day.
Once you’ve completed roughly 10-15 paces, PAUSE, take a breath and really notice the scene around you for a few moments. What can you see, how are you feeling, use all of your senses without judging or getting into a story, just notice. Now turn around and walk in the same manner back to where you started. As you begin to feel more comfortable moving at this pace, you will slowly find your balance and natural ‘flow’ and at this point you may begin to combine your breathing with your steps. Gently, slowly, in synchronicity, “breathing in, step one, breathing out, step two”, and so on. Continue for as little or as long as you wish, but I’d suggest a minimum of 5 minutes to start with. In my own experience I’ve found a deep sense of calm wash over me as I’ve begun to synchronize my breathe with my steps, and slowly settled in to my natural ‘flow’. I wanted to share the following quote, which I found useful when first attempting this practice for myself:
“Walk each step as if you are kissing the earth with the soles of your feet”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking Meditation Practice
In this activity we move away from the more deliberate and controlled motion of walking that’s described in the above practice, to instead the more natural day to day activity of navigating ourselves from A to B. This is where we enter a more ‘informal’ approach and gently introduce the idea of present moment awareness whilst on the move.
Everyday we are on the go, be it from our beds to our bathrooms, from home to work, doing our shopping or walking the dog, we are moving. But often during these periods we will find ourselves in our heads, on and on the ‘monkey mind’ is engaged, dwelling on the past, thinking about the future, the cogs are turning refusing to be quiet. So perhaps we can look at these moments with a different frame of mind, perhaps we can use these opportunities as a chance to enjoy more fully what’s occurring around us at those moments in time, and what nourishment our body is receiving when engaging in the gift of walking on the earth. That’s not to say we can’t think, we do need time in the day to process the actions and decisions needed, but we can also create some space in between, to allow ourselves the time to quieten the mind and just enjoy what we are experiencing.
So with that in mind next time you are on the move, you might like to just draw your attention to your breath and tune into the sounds around you, or the bodily sensations you are experiencing as you walk. Perhaps widen your field of vision and pay attention to what is unfolding, breathe a little more deeply and take in the smells around you. As you begin to tune your attention more frequently and integrate these ‘moments’ into your daily life, you may start to appreciate the stillness and connection you’re creating for yourself, and hopefully when you arrive at your next destination that you’re perhaps a little less flustered, stressed or in your head, than previously you may have been. Give it a try and see how you get on.
Again, you may wish to journal about your experiences of trying the above activities, do you notice any changes in yourself, are you able to drop some of your worries, and do you feel a little calmer or happier, or you’ve not noticed any change?
Nature Connection Activity 2 – Our Senses in Nature
What you’ll need:
In this practice we’ll be exploring our senses and the role they play in connecting our bodies to our environment moment by moment. This activity is an opportunity to reconnect to your inner child, to come into your ‘wildness’ and be as playful as you like. For many, in particular adults, this invitation can bring with it a sense of uncertainty or self-consciousness, we can so often be shamed or judged in our culture and this can lead us (as we grow older) to feeling apprehensive or nervous about expressing ourselves openly. But if we can look to our younger generations, we realise quite quickly what great teachers of mindfulness they can be. When we are young and at play, the majority of our awareness is in the present moment. We are not so concerned with the past or the future and tend to engage more fully with what we are experiencing around us at that time. Children you will notice take great delight in the tiny things…a bug crawling on a leaf, the sound of splashing as they hit a puddle in their wellies, or the feel of sand between their toes on a beach. By allowing ourselves to become more absorbed by our senses, rather than focussing on our intellectual thoughts, we can feel a sense of relief and begin to remember a place of ‘wild stillness’ that we once loved, when we used to more freely allow our bodies to fully embrace and experience the reciprocal relationships we enjoyed with the world around us. For myself as a child, the outdoors was one large and endless playground of adventure and exploration. So when I’m now out in nature as an adult, there’s nothing I love more than to re-engage my child within and immerse myself in the multi-sensory experience of my surroundings.
With that in mind I’d like to invite you to take yourself off, either into your garden, or on your daily walk and allow yourself, with a sense of childlike curiousness, to reconnect with the world around you and the wild being that your really are! This can feel like stepping out of your comfort zone and may initially feel a little challenging, but try to go with it and remain light and playful, there are no hard and fast rules, this is about having some fun and re-engaging with the wonders that our senses can bring.
Journal: you may like to journal your experience of tuning into your senses. How did you feel in yourself during and after the activity? What ways did you use to enjoy being free and out in nature? Is there a particular sense you most enjoyed tuning into and why?
Get Creative: another idea which can be nice, if you feel like it, is to end your experience by offering up a small token of your appreciation in a creative and ‘nature themed’ way. This can be whilst you’re out on your walk or in your garden, but just be mindful if in a public area that it does not obstruct or cause inconvenience to other users of the space. I myself often like to create ‘gratitude heart’ out of any natural materials that I can find to hand, from twigs and fallen branches, to leaves, moss, feathers or stones. If a heart doesn’t appeal, you could attempt a small mandala, or any shape really that you feel drawn to. I’ll leave you with a heart I made in my local woodland on the first day of the Covid-19 lockdown.
You are very welcome to contact us at Green Minds if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the practices further. See the contacts page for further info. We are here to support you on your journey, and please feel free to drop us any comments below to let us know how you found this weeks practices.
When you are ready to move on to week three please click the link below: