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British School of Meditation Blog

British School of Meditation Blog


Welcome to the British School of Meditation blog on Meditation Teacher Training

Acts of kindness

This week is celebrating random acts of kindness. This is a reminder to us that acts of kindness can make such a difference to others.

At the moment the phrase ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind’ is trending on social media as people react with sorrow to the tragic death of Caroline Flack.

Being kind can seem a simplistic idea but it can change the world one act of kindness at a time.

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 and remembering that even a smile can make a difference to someone’s day. It costs nothing but could make all the difference to someone.

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.

We can all be inspired by this meditation to be kinder to one another and also, importantly, to ourselves.

I posted this from Dr David Hamilton on our Facebook page today:¬if_t=page_post_reaction


Silent Retreat

I have just returned home from a silent retreat. I attended the Time Set Aside retreat at the end of January at the Woodbrooke Quaker Centre near Birmingham.

There were 12 attendees and two facilitators. We went into silence at 6pm on the first day and remained in silence until a sharing session on the final day.

While on the retreat I thought about what we mean by silence. Is it simply not speaking to other people?

The dictionary definition: absence of sound, abstention from sounding, speech, mention or communication.

Many people have written about silence:

 “Sometimes it’s best to stay quiet. The silence can speak volumes without ever saying a word.” Anonymous

“Silence is a source of great strength.” Lao Tzu

“The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.” Rumi

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.” - Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

So, is silence not speaking to other people or is there more to it than that? When we being silent are we still talking to ourselves? I was sitting at lunch one day and everyone was eating their food in silence. However, I did notice that I was observing my fellow diners and, it has to be said, making judgements of them. I did however realise what I was doing and made a definite attempt from then on to focus on my food and not on my companions! It is so easily done, making judgements and then are we really being silent or are we having an internal conversation?

Silence can be much more and can be profoundly beneficial to us. To be silent and meditate can take us to a place of deep stillness that is very nourishing. As Francis Bacon says: ‘Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.’

A wonderful book: ‘Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise’ Through silence, Thich Nhat Hanh reveals, we are free to hear, to see - and just be.

When we practise silence, we can learn to just be, to be more accepting of what is, to be more accepting of who we are. It is an antidote to the noisy world we live in.



Maintaining our practice 

In our latest vlog Helen looks at how our meditation practice can slip when we are very busy. Over Christmas and New Year we can get so busy that maintaining our practice can at times be almost impossible.
We can have family and friends coming to stay or we can go away ourselves. Sometimes with a house full of people it can difficult to find a quiet space and time to sit and do our daily practice. 
Helen had lots of family staying with her this Christmas and in the vlog, she says it was almost impossible for her to find time and space to meditate. I went to stay with my sister, and again it was hard to find time in between seeing family and visiting friends. 
However, it is important for us to realise that just because our practice may have slipped it doesn’t mean giving up on meditation. Once the family have gone or you are back home normal life resumes, and everything gets back to normal. 
It is then that we get back to our daily meditation practice if it has slipped. We don’t beat ourselves up and give up. 
We are all human and one of the things meditation can definitely give us is acceptance of what is. It can help us accept that at times we might not be able to maintain our practice but this doesn’t mean we have failed. We just start again, and again and again. 

Meditation and the immune system

in January we can often succumb to colds and flu. This year so many people seem to be suffering with quite bad colds and flu. One of my friends has been incapacitated by flu and then pneumonia despite having had both the flu and pneumonia jabs from her G.P. so, how can a daily meditation practice help strengthen the immune system?

An article in The Telegraph on Monday, 13 January 2020 says ‘meditation improves the immune system, reduces blood pressure and sharpens the mind:

Another article (  also points to the role played by meditation in helping us improve our immune system and keep healthy.

Meditation reduces inflammation and increases the number of CD-4 cells, these cells send out signals to other cells to destroy any signs of infection.

Dr. David Hamilton also writes about how we can strengthen our immune system:

Keep well!



Profile of the Dalai Lama

  The Dalai Lama:  Profile

This article from the BBC website gives a brief outline of the Dalai Lama

We thought you might enjoy reading it.  

In March 1959, as Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled into India.

Then a young man in his mid-20s, the future must have seemed bleak. With few countries prepared to respond to China's actions, he faced a difficult task to protect Tibetans and their traditions. Yet despite 50 years in exile, the reach of Tibet's spiritual leader has extended far beyond his community and he is now recognised as one of the world's leading religious figures. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his consistent opposition to the use of violence in his quest for Tibetan self-rule.

 Child leader

The 14th Dalai Lama was born on 6 July 1935, in a small village just outside the current boundaries of Tibet. His parents, who named him Lhamo Dhondub, were farmers with several other children. When he was two years old, a search party of Buddhist officials recognised him as the reincarnation of the 13 previous Dalai Lamas and he was enthroned before he turned four. He was educated at a monastery and went on to achieve the Geshe Lharampa Degree, a doctorate of Buddhist philosophy.

It would be natural to compare him with Mahatma Gandhi, one of this century's greatest protagonists of peace”

But in 1950, when he was 15, the troops of Mao Tse-tung's newly-installed Communist government marched into Tibet. As soldiers poured into the country, the Dalai Lama - his title means Ocean of Wisdom - assumed full power as head of state. In May 1951, China drew up a 17-point agreement legitimising Tibet's incorporation into China. When Tibetans took to the streets in 1959 demanding an end to Chinese rule, troops crushed the revolt and thousands of protesters were killed. The Dalai Lama fled to India on foot and settled in Dharamsala, in the north of the country, which is now home to the Tibetan government-in-exile. He was followed into exile by about 80,000 Tibetans, most of whom settled in the same area.

'Middle way'

In exile, the Dalai Lama began the task of trying to preserve the culture of the Tibetan people and publicise their plight on the world stage. He appealed to the United Nations and persuaded the General Assembly to adopt resolutions in 1959, 1961 and 1965 calling for the protection of the Tibetan people.

He has met political and religious leaders throughout the world and visited the late Pope John Paul II on several occasions.

The Dalai Lama has advocated a "middle way" to resolve the status of Tibet - genuine self-rule for Tibet within China.

In 1987, amid protests in Lhasa against the large-scale relocation of Han Chinese into Tibet, the Dalai Lama proposed a five-point plan, in which he called for the establishment of Tibet as a zone of peace. But he did not move from his stance of peaceful resistance and in 1989 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee praised his policy of non-violence, which it called "all the more remarkable when it is considered in relation to the sufferings inflicted on the Tibetan people".

New challenges

Despite their disagreements, the Dalai Lama has continued to seek dialogue with Beijing. Talks between the two sides broke down in 1993 and there were no more for nearly a decade. Discussions resumed in 2002 and have continued intermittently but with no apparent progress.

In March 2011, the Dalai Lama said that he planned to hand his political responsibilities to an elected representative, saying such a move was in the best interests of the Tibetan people."My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility," he said. "It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened." "Tibetans have placed such faith and trust in me that as one among them I am committed to playing my part in the just cause of Tibet”.

A poem for 2020

Be patient

to all that is unsolved

in your heart ….

Try to love the questions


Do not now seek the answers

which cannot be given

because you would not be able

to live them,

and the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps you will then


Without noticing it

Live along some distant day

Into the answers.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to a Young Poet 1934

Keeping calm at Christmas

 I am writing this on the day of the general election. For once the news isn’t dominated by politics and that is such a relief after the last few weeks.

In the build up to Christmas we can start to get very anxious about getting everything done: food shopping, present buying, writing Christmas cards and so on. Often, we can feel pressurised by the media and by adverts to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas, and it is all to easy to fall into the trap of spending too much money and buying too much stuff.

The shops are only closed for one day, Christmas Day itself, but you would think they were going to be closed for days on end the way we can stock up on food and spend lots of money.

I still send Christmas cards to friends and family, particularly to those people I won’t see, or live a long way away from.  I have friends up North who I have known for a very long time but don’t see them from one year to the next. I do, however, like to send them a card and always like it when I get cards from them.

A few years ago, my family decided that we would only buy Christmas presents for those members of the family under 21. We have a big family and it was beginning to get far too expensive buying for everyone.

This year I heard about a tradition started in the US which I really think is an excellent idea. I think it is especially for parents and grandparents. It is the four-present rule, and this is how it works:

You buy for each child:

Something you want and something you need

Something to wear and something to read.

I think this is a wonderful idea and will perhaps save a lot of money. I have known people get into debt trying to buy far too many presents for their children and grandchildren. A friend spends over £300.00 on each of her children at Christmas!

 So, let’s all have a wonderful time but not over stretch ourselves financially.

The Magnolia Tree

 The Magnolia Tree

It’s shedding leaves as autumn starts,

Letting go of the old to rest awhile.

The leaves are scattered by the wind,

They fall in my garden and drift on the breeze.

Leaves falling, tree naked and bare, standing tall and proud

Life goes on, forever changing and renewing,

Look at the trees and how easily they let go

Preparing for the new life to come in spring

What can we learn from the falling leaves?

Can we start again, let go of the old and rejoice in renewal?

Always the hope of renewal,

That things will get better.

Letting go of what no longer serves you,

Look forward to spring and new life.


Using beads, cards and pebbles as aids to meditation

Our latest vlog looks at the different tools we can use as an aid to meditation.

Music can be a wonderful aid to meditation – there are lots of CDs, mp3s and downloads from Spotify and others.

A great album is Zen and the Art of Relaxation

Mala beads are very useful when we are meditating especially when we want to chant. A set of beads consists of 108 beads which is a sacred number in the Buddhist tradition. I find meditating with mala beads very good for taking me into a lovely quiet space.

The most common mantra chanted with mala beads is Om Mani Padi Hum.

Pebbles can also be great aids to meditation. These pebbles have a word you can use when meditating. The most common words are: peace, love, kindness and happiness.

So, do have a look at these aids to meditation and see if any of them will support your meditation practice.


A silent meditation retreat

 A silent meditation retreat

At five to seven the gong sounded. We went into the meditation hall and found our places.

We sat down, and when everyone was seated Francesca, the course leader, came in. she sat down and said nothing. She rang a little bell and closed her eyes.

‘What is going on?’ I thought. ‘Isn’t she going to tell us what to do or lead us into a meditation?’

Nothing, just silence. Complete silence.

I looked around furtively at the other people in the room to see what they were doing. They all seemed to have their eyes closed too. Had I missed something I thought to myself. I sat there feeling rather foolish. It reminded me of maths lessons at school when everyone, except me, knew what to do and got on with the task in hand, while I sat there feeling really stupid and wondered yet again if I had missed the crucial lesson when the teacher had explained what we were doing.

Anyway I knew from the joining instructions that each meditation session lasted 45 minutes. I decided that the best thing to do was to close my eyes and meditate.

‘Why am I here? I don’t know if I can do this, I’m scared’

OK Mary, just breathe and recite your mantra’

‘I wonder if I’ll sleep tonight? It’s a strange place and a strange bed. I usually find it hard to sleep in a new place’

‘For heaven’s sake, stop it’ I told myself. ‘Stop thinking and just meditate’ I told myself sternly.

On and on it went, my mind constantly juggling thoughts, unable to stop myself. I felt a complete failure.

‘It’s hopeless, why did I think I could do this?’

A bell rang and brought me back into the meditation hall.

Francesca stood up and walked out. Everyone else began to get to their feet and follow her out. I struggled to my feet; I was finding the half lotus position difficult to sit in for three quarters of an hour.

I went out of the hall and up to my room. At least I have a room to myself I thought. When I had booked the retreat I had been told rooms would be allocated on arrival and that there were only 5 single rooms, all the rest were shared, and included several dormitories. I had been worried about sharing, especially as I had gone alone so I would be sharing with a stranger.

That first night I felt desolate. All my usual props had been removed. I was here in this country house for the next five days spending my time in silence. I couldn’t avoid myself. It was me, my thoughts, and silence. The silence was truly deafening. At that moment in that bare little room the thought uppermost in my mind was ‘Why on earth did I come here?’

Earlier in the year I had read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the book Elizabeth write about how she decided to take a year out of her life to travel and to discover who she really was after the breakdown of her marriage. It had inspired me to go on a retreat myself. As my budget was somewhat more limited than this famous New York journalist’s my choice had been a five day, silent retreat in Devon. I had been meditating already for several years and had found it had helped me to become a much calmer person. I had been drinking far too much, to the point where I had become dependent on alcohol. I would come home from work and the first thing I did was pour a glass of wine. This would then turn into a second and third glass. I was drinking every day and didn’t seem to be able to stop. Nor did I want to. Every one I knew drank, and it did seem to help me cope with the stresses of my job. I was becoming aware however, that I was drinking more and that I had got to the stage when I preferred to stay in and drink than go out and socialise.

The turning point came when I met someone, in a pub, of course, who suggested there was another way to cope with the stresses of daily life. He had been meditating for many years and told me how it had recently helped him to cope with the death of his wife from cancer. He had found that meditation took him to a place where he was calm and much more in control.

I went home and thought about what he had said and got in touch with him.  Through him I learnt to meditate and gradually with daily practice I had become a much calmer and nicer person. The dependence on alcohol had also greatly reduced. This was a good job I thought as I sat in my little room. All alcohol was prohibited on the retreat.

There I go again, I thought, I just don’t seem to be able to put a stop to my thoughts. I decided to try and sleep. It wasn’t easy. I was very restless and thoughts churned through my head for most of the night. I always find it hard to sleep in a strange bed any way and this funny little room reminded me of  the nun’s cell’s back at school. It had a single bed, a chair and a small wardrobe and that was it. No luxurious ensuite accommodation. The bathroom was shared with all the people on my corridor, about 12 of us.

The next day I got up at 6.30 and went into the meditation hall for five to seven. Francesca came in and when she rang the bell we went into our first period of silent meditation for the day. Sitting there I tried hard and for a few minutes I did actually manage to still my thoughts. It didn’t last long. It was a humbling experience because I had thought it would be so easy. After all I’d been meditating for a long time now hadn’t I?

‘Thinking again, Mary, stop it’

Eventually, time was up and we went for breakfast. Like the evening meal the night before I found this difficult. We ate in silence. I found the best thing to do was to avoid eye contact. After breakfast we had chores to do. The costs of retreats at the centre were kept low by everyone volunteering to help with housework. I had chosen to be on washing up duty. We washed up in silence although it seemed to me quite a lot of communication could be achieved without words.

The day then continued with meditations in the hall and walking meditations. We spent the whole day in silent meditation either together in the hall or outside doing a walking meditation. This involved walking very slowly and mindfully up and down focussing on the steps and again trying not to think. We were very lucky; the weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. I was new to this sort of meditation and it took me a while to get into any sort of rhythm. I watched what the others were doing and copied them.


I was still struggling with my thoughts but was beginning to feel a bit easier. We had been told that while we were at the centre we couldn’t use the phone and that mobile phones were to be switched off for the duration of the retreat. We were cut off from the world and cut off from normal communication. It was so unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was me stripped bare. No one to call and discuss what was going on.  It was me thrown back on my own resources and trying to discover if I had enough depth of character to survive being just with myself.

Included in our instructions had been advice to not do any reading or writing, because these are forms of speaking. I was finding this hard to do. I love to read and felt bereft without my books. I had brought books and writing materials with me. My idea had been to record the whole experience in my journal. To chart my progress I suppose. I realised this was just another way of talking to myself and therefore breaking the silence. Reading would take me into someone else’s world and the whole reason for being here was to be fully present in the moment. Reading had been my escape route for so long. I had learnt to read before I went to school and was a classic book worm. Reading took me out of my reality into a brighter, happier world.

On day two on one of my walking meditations I came across an old church and graveyard. This became ‘my’ place. I had it all to myself and often after walking for 15 minutes I would lie down and just look up at the sky. I tried not to think as I lay there in the warm sunshine and inevitably I fell asleep. I had been working very hard. I am self employed and find it difficult to switch off from work mode. Now I had five days when I didn’t need to think about work and I was able to relax for the first time in years.

As the days went on I did begin to get to a point when I began to feel more peaceful. We had no contact with the outside world so I didn’t know what was happening. There were no newspapers and no TV or even radio. We were cut off from the ceaseless activity of the media.

I was beginning to find it good not to be bombarded by news and the constant noise of the media. I realised that a lot of my anxiety was fuelled by reading newspapers and watching news bulletins on TV. At first I felt that the universe would stop revolving because I wasn’t on constant alert for the latest news, but gradually I began to calm down and realise that the world could keep on revolving without my help. This was a significant moment for me. I had spent most of my life as a news junkie. I had taught for many years in secondary schools and it had been vital then to be informed, to know what was going on. However, I had given up teaching and was now self employed. I worked as a counsellor and ran workshops to help people manage their stress. Coming away for these few days was helping me to begin to reach a different stage in my life. As the silence took over I did become much calmer. It was a revelation. My meditation teachers had talked about the still calm space inside us that is always there no matter what is going on in our outer world. I was slowly beginning to grasp the point of meditating.

By day 4 I had begun to let go of all sorts of useless baggage. I was still thinking but was now finding I could just observe whatever thoughts came up and instead of dwelling on them, letting them go. It was fantastic. I began to feel lighter in mind and body; although that could have been that I was eating less as well. Note to self: if you want to lose weight go away and try to be silent for 5 days! We can be weighed down by our thoughts and letting them go, in particular letting the past go was helping me feel free.

Day five, the last day of complete silence. I was now getting into a real routine. I got up at 6.30am and was down in the meditation hall for five to seven. I was able to sit and be still in my mind, body and spirit for most of the time.

The sense of peace in the meditation hall had been growing steadily over the days. It made me realise I probably wasn’t the only one struggling with the experience. The deep silence echoed through the hall and filled my mind. My thoughts actually stopped and I became still. It was truly blissful. In fact it is hard to describe in words because you have to think about it rather than just feel it.

Final day – we were in silence until lunch and then we were allowed to talk!

It was really strange at first. Some people in the group just couldn’t stop talking and I discovered that there were people there from all over the world. We hadn’t spoken to each other until this moment. And it was very interesting finding out about people you had been making assumptions about for the last few days.

There were Americans, French, Swedes, Italians and people from different parts of the UK one lady lived only a few miles away from me. As we all chatted away it was amazing to learn about different experiences. One boy of about 19 was meditating his way around the world and was heading off to France the next day. 

I phoned for a taxi and got my bag. I was on my way home. As I sat on the train I reflected on the experience. I decided it had been worthwhile and that the feeling of calm and peace I had achieved was a huge benefit. When I was forced to be silent I had nothing but myself to be with it. I discovered that I was an OK person to be with.

That was several years ago. I now spend much of my time meditating, teaching meditation and running the British School of Meditation. It was a life changing experience. Mary 

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