British School of Meditation Blog
Very Short Meditations and blood pressure
I promised in my last blog I would let you know how I got on at trying to bring in short mindful periods in my day. I have tried to remember, the most memorable times are when I have stepped outside and just taken a few deep breaths and given myself time to enjoy the sounds around me, or at night just looking at the sky. I am lucky I live in the countryside so I can see the stars at night.
I had to pop to see my GP the other day, and as they always do the Doctor checked my blood pressure and it was no surprise to me that she found that it was a rather high. I was then asked to take my blood pressure in the morning and in the evening for a period of a week. High blood pressure runs in my family, so I was happy to do this.
I have to tell you at this point that my husband over the years has built up a collection of USA and Canadian car number plates, and we have them on the wall of our kitchen. This one morning I took the first reading and it was rather high, so I thought right Helen take three breaths and focus on something, I looked over at the all of number plates and focused on the number plate for British Columbia, the number plate reads ‘British Columbia, Beautiful.’. So, I took three deep mindful breaths and focused on the word in front of me ‘Beautiful. I then took another reading and it was down to 120/60, the reading I had when I was in my 20s,30s and 40s. I was astounded, although you would think I would know this, but to me this was physical proof that when you can just take three deep breaths and allow yourself a moment of calm.
By the way the Doctor has not been back in touch with me about the readings so I guess they are ahppy with them.
Remember three deep breaths and allow yourself a moment of calm.
Acts of kindness
Yesterday I had an appointment in town and went in on the bus. I used my bus pass going but when I was coming home, I couldn’t find my pass anywhere. I paid the fare to get home, £2.30, and felt so grateful for the pass!
When I arrived home, I had a phone call from someone at the council to say someone had found my pass. They gave me a number to ring and I spoke to the person who had found my pass.
He offered to pop round to my house with it. So, having thought I had lost my bus pass and would have to go through a whole process of applying for a replacement, within the space of half an hour the lost pass was returned to me.
So, a lovely act of kindness.
It is so easy to focus on all that goes wrong in the world and forget that most people are kind and helpful. I was really touched by this act of kindness.
Do you remember the film ‘Pay it Forward’?
The premise of the film and of the book by Catherine Hyde is that you do 3 acts of kindness and ask the recipients to then in turn od 3 acts of kindness to other people rather than reciprocate your act of kindness. It is a way of spreading kindness in the world.
So, this week I will be doing random acts of kindness to say thank you to Paul who restored my buss pass to me!
The meditation on LovingKindness is one of my absolute favourites. Metta or LovingKindness is a powerful way of extending love and kindness in the world. https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/loving-kindness-meditation
We can all be inspired by this meditation to be kinder to one another and also, importantly, to ourselves.
A general chat about meditation.
I hope you have read the last two blog posts, as both Mary and I have had what can be called very difficult situations to deal with, and we have both talked about how hard it is to meditate at times like this, and to basically just accept that’s how it is and not to beat yourself up.
This has made me think more about my meditation practice, and how when its difficult to bring mediation into everything (well that’s the plan) that I do.
So, when I chop vegetables, I am aware of the feel of the knife, the colour of the vegetables and so on. This can be brought into everything that we do, making the bed, having a shower. Reading a book, how many times do we have to go back and re-read a paragraph as our mind has wandered, or is this just me? Its all about being in the present moment, which is what living is really about, not just imagining the future be that good or bad, life is now, in all its glory. That doesn’t mean we cannot remember the past or people in our past, as those events will have an impact on how we are, but to just except that events were as they were, believe me I know this is very hard.
I will let you know how I am getting on with trying to be mindful all of the time, not just in my sitting practice.
I love this Chinese proverb:
He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey.
He who blames himself is halfway there.
He who blames no one has arrived.
Posted by Frans Steine: http://ihreiki.com/
See also mindfulness practice: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/
Sometimes it’s hard to meditate
In the last blog Helen wrote about her difficulties meditating recently when a family issue took up all of her headspace. I think we all need to appreciate that at times we will find it hard, if not impossible to meditate.
A similar thing happened to me at the end of last year. I came home after a choir practice to find my house had been burgled. Every cupboard and drawer in the house had been opened and the contents thrown on the floor. The mess was appalling. I was devastated by this intrusion and violation.
I phoned the police and they responded by sending 2 officers that night and a Scenes of Crime Officer the next day. They were looking for evidence to track down the burglar. There had been a spate of burglaries in Cheltenham and the police were anxious to catch the perpetrators.
What did the burglar get? About £30.00 in cash, and a pair of trainers (I know, bizarre!).
What did I get? My peace of mind and feelings of security were severely challenged. It is horrible to think someone can invade your property and go through your belongings.
I found it really hard to meditate at home because every time I went to sit and meditate, I felt tense and unsafe. I couldn’t focus on my mantra because my mind kept churning over thoughts of feeling unsafe and afraid it might happen again. I became hyperalert to every sound.
I have now installed a burglar alarm on the advice of the police and now do feel safer. Time has also helped me reconcile myself to what happened, as has the kindness of friends and family who have been so supportive. My brother and nephew came and installed the alarm for me.
I have therefore been able to resume my normal twice daily meditation practice.
It is good for us to realise that sometimes there are valid reasons why our practice is disrupted and be kind to ourselves. It is far too easy to beat ourselves up and blame ourselves when our practice goes awry.
We need to practice Loving Kindness and acceptance. We need to realise that we are only human, and that sometimes we cannot maintain our practice. However, we also know that this is only temporary and that we will get back into our practice and enjoy the benefits once more.
Is there ever a time when you just can’t meditate?
We are encouraged to have a daily practice, in fact the advice is 20 minutes twice a day. I have been thinking long and hard about this, and whilst this is good practice it isn’t always possible.
Recently I have had a family issue that has taken all of my time up. This would have been the ideal time to just sit and meditate, yet every time I sat down to start my practice, I just couldn’t, my mind simply would not let me. All sorts of thoughts and emotions swirled around my mind. At first, I was very frustrated with myself, thinking for goodness sake this is the time you need to meditate, so I was making this situation even more upsetting and stressful, increasing my levels of anxiety, which to be honest were at a high level as it was. I was sending myself in a downward spiral just when I needed to be strong.
So, I took myself in hand, and thought what do I need? I accepted that at that moment meditating in my normal way just wasn’t happening, I just craved peace and quiet, to be alone with my thoughts and emotions. I would take myself off to bed early with a book that really didn’t need much thinking about. A walk in the fresh air. Sometimes I just stood and took three deep breaths. Whilst none of these were meditating in the strictest sense, they were what I needed at that moment in time, and this was OK. Looking back this was the greatest kindness I could do for myself.
It is an easy trap to fall in, thinking that we really must meditate and not listen to what we need and are able to do at a particular time, it would be so easy to feel guilty about not meditating in the formal way, our practice does not need to be that rigid. However, I am sure that through my daily practice I was able to understand and listen to what I needed at this time, without adding an extra stress of guilt to all that was happening around me.
When the time feels right, just gently go back to your practice, with love and kindness. This is what I am doing.
Surgeons are in a unique and privileged position. We are permitted, legally permitted, to inflict pain. Our patients ask us to do this for reasons of recurrent physical conditions, sometimes with associated psychological symptoms and sometimes, even for cosmetic conditions. An entire medical speciality called anaesthesia was created to support our endeavours.
Pain has a significant neurological component and some forms of pain-killers, act on neural pathways to disrupt them. However, even the most innocuous pain-killers, are not without potential short-or long-term consequences. Given the neurological component, it seems logical that a neurological process may be able to modulate the pain response. I have used the insights gained from meditation as well as my own personal experience with patients in the operating theatre to describe the common meditation and mindfulness techniques and how they work. You don’t need to be a meditator to use the insights gained in the article.
Few things are worse for the experience of patients and people in general than fear, especially fear of the unknown. For this reason, these techniques are probably not suitable for acute (or chronic) undiagnosed pain. If the symptoms are acute or severe, you should seek medical attention.
Local anaesthesia is extremely effective if used properly and the patients’ expectations managed. Local anaesthetics selectively block pain receptors, however those receptors for pressure and temperature are still active, and the latter more relevant if diathermy (electrical cautery devices) are used. Local anaesthesia itself requires an injection with a needle. Some patients find this very distressing and this can be reduced using some of the techniques mentioned later as well as the use of a topical local anaesthetic applied to the injection site 30-40 minutes before the procedure. Sometimes the procedure can be done entirely under topical local anaesthesia and using some of the adjuncts described. The infiltration of local anaesthesia itself causes a short-lived stinging sensation before pain receptor blockage.
One of the easiest ways to ameliorate most mild forms of pain is to simply take your mind off it. Engage yourself in an activity, listen to some music or go for a walk. Most mild or short-lived causes for pain will subside.
3. The piece de la resistance was the which nurses employed to monitor and converse with the patient. One nurse in particular, let’s call her 'Polly', was perhaps the most talkative nurse in South East England at the time and she could keep patients occupied in conversation for the entire duration of the procedure. This no doubt had a massive impact on the patients' consistently positive experience of the procedure.
We’re all told to take deep breaths at a time of stress, anxiety, pain; childbirth. For breathing to be truly effective, it needs to be conscious. That is, to put your focus and full attention to your breathing. Taking deep breaths in through the nose, feeling how the air, its warmth, and flow feels as it enters your nose, airways, expands your chest and abdomen. On the exhalation, feel the relaxation in your abdomen and chest, feel the warm air leaving your airways and gently exhale it out of your mouth. The exhalation should last slightly longer than the inhalation. Every time you get distracted, especially by pain, go back to the breath and focus.
In Vedic tradition, the breath is said to carry ‘Prana’, the vital life force that animates all living things. The breath is said to be healing by its very nature and is employed in a number of techniques that employ visualising breathing into the pain.
“The cure for pain is in the pain – Rumi”
These techniques are effective for moderate to severe pain but do require some practice although there are some who are extremely adept and pick these techniques up quickly. They are effective for chronic ailments such as back pain (as previously mentioned, undiagnosed acute or recurrent pain usually requires medical attention).
It makes sense that conscious perception of pain is better tolerated than tolerating the pain alone.
Body scan meditation is a mindfulness practice that is gaining increasing popularity in pain management and pain clinics. It is especially useful for those with chronic pain. As mentioned, pain consists of more than just the physical sensations in the body and always involves thoughts, and often emotions and personal beliefs. Chronic pain can also cause negative emotions such as anger, sadness, desperation and anxiety making their management even more complicated and symptoms often worse.
Body scan meditation is said to help with the experiences associated with pain including those that can exacerbate pain such as emotion by placing awareness on them. There is a growing body of research in the peer-reviewed scientific literature attesting to its efficacy in reducing the intensity of perceived pain. This form of mindfulness allows us to change our relationship with pain for the better, instead of feeling like we are being held captive by it.
1. Bring your awareness to the internal sensations in the body region by region. Acknowledge whatever sensations are present, without judgment. Notice those areas where the pain is more intense or more diffuse compared to those where it is more localised. Just allow these areas to ‘soften’ before moving on to the next region
(for a free downloadable body scan meditation click here).
This is perhaps the most difficult technique to ‘master’. However, if you have time for nothing else or if in an extreme situation then this technique may be effective (and anyway, you have nothing to lose!). It involves detaching yourself from the pain at a deep level and becoming the ‘witness’ or observer of the pain. There has to be a deep belief that you are not the ever-changing and healing body that is experiencing pain, that the thoughts associated are temporary and fleeting and you are that who is ‘witnessing’ the pain. If done earnestly, this will cause immediate separation of the pain and the perceiver of the pain. As an Advaita Vedanta practice of awareness, I practice this technique often when I experience the back discomfort of sitting for long periods in meditation. I have also used it to great effect when I burned my hand on a 300-degree paint stripping gun. You may want to start with the niggly back pain though! The experience that I have when using this for focal (usually musculoskeletal) pain is the perception of the pain ‘melting’ away. Using this technique in the situation of the burn, the process definitely modulated the deep ‘internal’ pain to the point that it was negligible. The perception of pain superficially on the skin was also reduced significantly but not completely eliminated.
Social media and meditation
We need to harness the power of social media and video.
Apparently video is what Google and Facebook love, so, we all need to get into the habit of using and sharing videos.
We live in an age when Facebook and YouTube are beginning to take over as the main ways in which people share information. I read an article in the Sunday Times about the CEO of YouTube. She is Susan Wojcicki and it is her belief that YouTube will soon become the world’s most powerful broadcaster.
According to research television viewing amongst young people (18-49) continues to drop rapidly while at the same time they spend more and more time on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
We want young people to become aware of the power of meditation and the ways in which it can help them reduce stress and manage an increasingly frantic world. If we want to reach them, we need to be visible to them.
So, we need to harness the power of YouTube, Facebook and other such social media sources. They are the future of communication and we need to embrace them.
If your mind and thoughts are scattered and you feel like your head is all over the place, you need to anchor and ground yourself in the present moment. The brilliant news is that there is a shortcut - YOU CAN USE YOUR SENSES to bring you back into the NOW.
1. For one minute, look at something (anything!) - properly focus on it, what do you notice about its shape, appearance, texture, colour? What can you see now that you’re studying this object that you’ve never noticed before?
Nicky Thackray is a student on the BSoM Meditation Teacher Training course in the North East with
Article on creativity and meditation
Do you know what Richard Gere, Madonna, Clint Eastwood, Russell Brand, Leonard Cohen, Sir Paul McCartney, and Novak Djokovic have in common? As well as being extremely famous, successful and creative people, they have all spoken about how a daily meditation practice has made a huge difference to their lives.
Russell Brand ‘Meditation has been incredibly valuable to me. I literally had an idea drop into my head the other day while I was meditating which I think is worth millions of dollars’ The New York Times, April 10th, 2011. Russell Brand
The list of famous authors who have accessed their inner creativity through meditation includes: Victor Hugo, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Deepak Chopra and quite probably Shakespeare who frequently alludes to meditation in his plays and sonnets.
He doth entreat your grace, my noble lord,
To visit him to-morrow or next day:
He is within, with two right reverend fathers,
Divinely bent to meditation,
And in no worldly suits would he be moved
To draw him from his holy exercise.
- William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Richard the Third
So how can developing a meditation practice help you to be more creative?
Meditation can be the key to unlocking your creativity. Many writers struggle with writer’s block and cleaning the dirty windows can seem a pleasurable chore in comparison to sitting looking at a blank piece of paper; the words won't come, don't come. So, what can you do when you are stuck? I think anyone who writes or is engaged in creative pursuits knows this feeling of frustration; this sense that the brain has seized up.
Many people, including writers, have discovered the power of meditation to calm the mind and access creativity. If you don't already meditate how do you start?
So many people tell me that when they try to meditate they find it impossible to stop their thoughts and very often give up because they feel they can’t do it or they aren’t doing it correctly.
How to start: you can find a teacher and learn the techniques from them. Teachers who have trained with the British School of Meditation are fully qualified, insured and have signed our Code of Ethics and Practice. www.teaching-meditation.co.uk/findateacher
Or you can develop your own practice at home. There is no need for complicated equipment, most people find sitting on an upright chair works for them. You certainly don't need any incense or statues of Buddha. All you need is a quiet space and some time. Not endless amounts of time. Start with five minutes and then gradually extend the sessions to about twenty minutes.
What you now need is a focus: it can be your breath, or a mantra. A mantra is simply a word or a phrase you repeat silently in your mind. When your attention drifts, which it undoubtedly will, just keep bringing it back to your point of focus. Simple but not easy! It takes practice. Your mantra could be something like: ‘words flow easily’.
Read what some other writers have said:
My friend, Sue Johnson, is a writer, poet, creative writing workshop facilitator and published author. This is what she says about meditation and the creative process:
‘Meditation can be seen as a doorway between our inner and outer worlds.
It is this inner world that creative writers, artists and musicians need to access for their work. This state of mind – between the worlds – has been described by Dan Brown,(author of ‘The Da Vinci Code’) as like being between sleeping and waking.
For a creative person with a day job that involves mainly left brain activity, meditation can help with switching to creative right brain activity as well as giving the brain a much-needed rest. This need not take up more than ten minutes and the benefits will very soon be seen with greater output and a better flow of ideas. There are many techniques that can help improve concentration when meditating. For instance, some people find that focusing on an image or colour that features in their current project can help to block out the endless ‘chatter’ of the mind. Alternatively, a scented candle can help to draw the writer or artist into the right space to begin their creative work.’
Sue Johnson, www.writers-toolkit.co.uk
Albert Einstein said, “The really valuable thing is intuition. Through meditation I found answers before I even asked the question.”
Alice Walker, (The Color Purple) says: ‘At one point I learned transcendental meditation. This was 30-something years ago. It took me back to the way that I naturally was as a child growing up way in the country, rarely seeing people. I was in that state of oneness with creation and it was as if I didn't exist except as a part of everything.’
Meditation takes you to the space in your mind where your true creativity resides. It is where you find your authentic voice. You are bringing yourself to the page, and this helps you to engage with your audience in a very profound way. I wish you happy meditating and joyful writing.
©Mary Pearson 2019
Meditation and pain management
There are a variety of reasons why people decide to learn to meditate and one of the reasons can be for chronic pain management. We therefore have to ask ourselves does meditation really help reduce pain.
I have used meditation to help with pain. I have just recovered from having two fractures in my knee, this meant I was none weight bearing for about five months, it took sometime as well for the fractures to be diagnosed but that’s another story. As you can imagine my knee was very painful. As a meditator I tried to meditate on the pain in my knee, and I really found this helped, somehow it took the pain down several notches and this in turn meant I needed fewer painkillers. All I did was go into my quite space in my mind, and turn my attention to the pain and really that’s all it took. I have written the meditation in more detail at the end of this blog.
I am including a link to a YouTube video about a lady who said that she was in chronic pain and found that Mindfulness meditation really did help her, whilst it didn’t take it away completely, the pain was less and, in some ways, took the sting out of it. The clip shows her brain scans before and after meditating on the pain, have a look at the clip and see the outcome.
Danny Penman PhD, has written an interesting article about Mindfulness Meditation and pain, he makes the point that sometimes the struggle to fight the pain can make it even worse, and the effect of exploring the pain through mindfulness meditation can really help. He states that: -
Such an approach forms the core of a new treatment for chronic pain and illness that is based on an ancient form of meditation known as ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. Accomplished meditators can reduce it by over 90 percent.
Imaging studies show that mindfulness soothes the brain patterns underlying pain and, over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself, so that patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity. Many say that they barely notice it at all.
My meditation to help with pain.
For this meditation, sit or lie in a comfortable position for you, this will be guided by the discomfort/pain you are feeling. When I have my fractures in my knee, I had to always sit with my feet up, so this is how I meditated.
Gently close your eyes, take a few breaths focusing on the coolness of the air as you breath in and the warmth of the air as you breath out. When you are ready turn your attention to the various areas of your body, starting at the head, and working you way down to your feet, as you focus on each area try to relax the muscles and let any tension go.
Now turn your attention to the area that is painful to you, for me it was my knee, so I just (and this is the only way I can explain it) watched and observed the pain. I tried not to judge it or even to think about what was causing it. The first time I tried this I only focused on the area for a minute or two, as I practised my meditation over time, I increased the length of time that I focused on my knee.
When you are ready turn your attention back to the breath again focusing on the coolness of the air as you breathe in and the warmth of the air as you breathe out. I always like to end my meditations by becoming aware of my feet and my connection with the ground.
This meditation is in no way to replace any medication you have been prescribed by your health practitioner.
The British School of Meditation has been established to train teachers in meditation techniques to meet the growing demand for highly trained and accredited meditation teachers throughout the UK including: the Midlands, South West, Wales, North West, North East, London and the South East.