Calm Inspiration

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A few weeks ago I was listening to one of my favourite radio programmes, Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC 6 Music and heard an interview with Haemin Sunim, and immediately placed an order for his book.

I have quite a few books on Buddhism and meditation and was intrigued to see how Haemin would approach the subject differently.  As it has been primarily inspired by his Twitter account, in which he gives advice on a number of topics, the book has similarly been divided up in to the following sections; rest, mindfulness, passion, relationships, love, life, the future and spirituality.  It’s written in a very accessible, conversational style, and you could either read all the way through, or just dip in and out of it.

However, what really impressed me were the beautiful illustrations which accompany the words and elevate this above many others in this field and making it a joy to hold and read.

Stop, look and listen … to yourself

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Recent minor surgery has resulted in much anxiety and forced ‘doing very little’ on me.  Prior to the operation I was becoming increasingly apprehensive and had to find a way to calm myself.  The answer came in the form of a free app; Headspace, which has ten introductory meditation sessions and encourages you to set a daily reminder to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself.  As a former yoga teacher you might think I wouldn’t need to an app to remind me to meditate, but you’d be wrong; even those trained in meditation sometimes need a little shove in the direction of ten minutes of peace each day.  Especially, if like me, you were not very good at sitting and doing nothing in the first place, and much preferred the physical asana practice of yoga.

It is also very beneficial to go back to the beginning sometimes and remind yourself of what you already know but may have forgotten, and possibly approaching it in a different way in the process.  I have almost completed the ten free sessions and have found them very useful during what has been a very challenging time for me.  As yet, I haven’t decided if I will sign up for further access to Headspace but it did lead me to consider re-reading some of my meditation books and I thought I would write a post about them as potential inspiration for some of you.

The little ‘Sit like a Buddha’ book is a simple, straightforward guide to meditation, written with humour, and is a realistic approach to the practice.  It’s also a quick read, so you can get straight on with your meditation!  One aspect of the book which I found useful was the chapter entitled ‘know your why’, which was something I had never thought about before.  I guess I just thought ‘I should meditate’ but never asked myself why I was doing so; it was just something I felt I ought to do.  Yes, I know all the benefits (and they are many) but what was the particular reason for sitting on any given day to practice?  That I had not previously questioned; and so my reason these last few weeks has clearly been dealing with anxiety over my surgery, and the ongoing recovery from it.  Once I had established my why, I felt a greater sense of purpose to practice and found it easier to make the time to do so.

‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is a classic of the genre from Thich Nhat Hanh; my copy is quite old; it was published in 1991!  That goes to show how good it is because I do not horde, I have regular and quite ruthless clear-outs of everything, books included.  The fact that this one (and others by TNH) has escaped my eager de-cluttering is testament to it being an essential read for anyone interested in meditation.  I love the relevant examples used to allow beginners in to the practice, such as ‘washing the dishes, wash the dishes’ and the importance of being fully present in every moment, regardless of how you might feel at the time.  This is something which I have often used when anxiety comes calling and I consciously re-direct my focus to what is happening in the here and now, as opposed to what I fear may happen.  This is a must purchase!  As are any books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

‘The Meditator’s Handbook’ is one of the first books on the subject I ever bought and takes a more psychological approach to the practice.  It details varies styles of mediation from different belief systems, both eastern and western alike, in addition to perspectives from Tai Chi and yoga.  It is a very thorough and therefore, a more academic guide, with plenty of opportunities to put what you have read about into practice.  I would say this is for those who are more serious about their practice and would like to know something about the various meditation traditions around the world.

‘Mindfulness’ by Williams and Penman is one of the more recent publications on meditation and takes a modern approach by focusing primarily on the practice of mindfulness and how it can help with anxiety and depression.  It includes an 8-week programme with accompanying CD, and is clear, practical and extremely helpful; especially at a time when mental health is (rightly so) being given increasing importance in society.  As someone who is currently not 100%, I am aware that my recovery will be as much mental as physical, and if I can remain positive I will get better much quicker.

Regardless of whether you are a proficient practitioner or a beginner, I hope this post has inspired you, and I would love to hear of your books, apps or any other meditation tips you have.

Happy meditating!

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Compassion

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I hate conflict and try to avoid it wherever possible; so it was quite a shock to my system last week when I did something I have rarely done in life, I lost my temper. Looking back from a more detached perspective, I can see how I had been sucked into someone else’s whirlwind of negativity and how their energy had brought down my own.  On top of that, ideological and personality clashes had led to a toxic air which was finally cleared, but not after a good deal of unpleasantness.  As I sat in the middle of it all, and despite being upset by their words, I suddenly felt compassion and sadness for my foe.

In the ensuing days, I have been able to return to that feeling and realise with the help of a wise friend that I had been opposite an individual in pain, who was unable to reflect on the effect they were having on those around them. I had tried to act as a mirror but have to acknowledge that my actions had been misjudged.

I am a very sensitive person; is that a good or bad thing? When I was younger it felt like an insult; ‘you’re too sensitive’; ‘you shouldn’t take it to heart’.  I’m sure many of you reading this can relate to that.  Growing up I felt my sensitivity was a flaw; a disadvantage.  I’m open-hearted and honest; that’s a risky combination too, as I have learnt over the years.  Yet being sensitive can also make you empathetic, with the ability to feel things deeply, and that is a gift.

However, as I have reflected in these last few days, I have decided I would rather refer to myself as intuitive. I knew a year ago when I came into contact with this individual that I didn’t want to be around them, but I ignored my doubts; I had to work with them, and so tried to make the best of things.  Yet as so often happens in life, that quiet voice knew there was a negative aura around this person and it tried to tell me to guard against being pulled into it, but I didn’t listen and tried to handle the situation as best as I could.  My best was not quite the right way though, and I can see that now.  I can also see how I beat myself up over the resulting situation, which also revealed I need to be more compassionate towards myself as well as others, even those who cause me pain.

This has been a lesson in compassion for me; and one from which I intend to learn and grow. It has also prompted a return to spiritual practices which I had long neglected and so I hope I will become a better person for what I have been through.  I sincerely hope my foe, my teacher in this lesson, can do the same.