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British School of Meditation Blog

British School of Meditation Blog

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

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. 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCQ6IFUAwk8 

The Immune system and meditation

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: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/8862275/Meditation-improves-the-immune-system-research-shows.html

Another article (https://chopra.com/articles/how-meditation-helps-your-immune-system-do-its-job)  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: http://drdavidhamilton.com/6-ways-your-brain-cant-distinguish-real-from-imaginary/

Keep well!

Mary

 

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFYDMKwevhk

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.

Mary


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.

https://gaiahouse.co.uk/

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 


Impossible is not a fact.
It's an opinion. 
Impossible is not a declaration.
It's a dare. 
Impossible is potential.
Impossible is temporary.
Impossible is NOTHING. 

 Muhammad Ali   

Recently I watched Andy Murray make a return to competitive tennis, something that had seemed impossible after he limped out of the Australian Open and it looked like his career was over.

He held a press conference and he was in tears contemplating the end of the career he loves and has done so well in. I have followed his career from its early days, and I, too, was in tears listening to him. Andy has been an inspiration in what he has achieved in terms of his tennis career, but also in other ways too. He raises huge amounts of money for charity – Unicef – is just one example.

He has also championed women, appointing a female coach, and taking interviewers, such as John Inverdale to task for casual sexism.  

If anyone exemplifies the above quote from Muhammad Ali, it is Andy Murray. Faced with the end of his illustrious career he had a second hip replacement operation and is now back playing doubles and winning. For Andy impossible was NOTHING.

In 1997 my life fell apart and for a time it seemed impossible that I could change it. But slowly and surely, I began to rebuild my life and, in fact, change it for the better. I began to train in different disciplines, including teaching meditation and looked at an exit strategy from school teaching. I sold my house and moved from Manchester to Cheltenham and set myself up as self-employed. It was a struggle at first but gradually and with determination I began to build my new business.

In 2011 I got together with Helen and together we created something out of nothing: The British School of Meditation. Here we are in 2019 with a wonderful team and a Register of members.

So, remember: ‘Impossible is not a fact -------’ 

See our latest vlog about starting to meditate- tips from Helen on how to start your meditation practice.

 https://youtu.be/5qalV-miydU


Weather and meditation

Is it just me or are you finding this weather is taking your Mo-Jo away?   I think that we look forward to seeing the sun and being outside so when it rains for days in the summer and its cold, we just feel deflated. Various friends have said they just can’t be bothered with stuff. 

What can we do when we feel like this?  In my view this is just the time to give ourselves some Loving Kindness. Don’t put pressure on yourself just relax into how you are feeling and just be with it.  I was feeling guilty as I had not some work for the school, then I took myself in hand and thought well Helen don’t do until you feel in the right place, the next day I got all the work done.  In the meantime, I had enjoyed putting my feet up and playing our new puppy.

I also practised Loving Kindness Meditation, for those of you that done know this meditation here it is.

First of all, settle in your meditation position.

Be aware of your breath.

When you are ready just say these words to yourself.

May I be well,

May I be happy,

May all good things come to me.

Repeat this phrase as many times as you like.

After a time stop repeating the phrase and just sit. If your attention wanders go back to repeating the phrase.

You can if you wish then think of someone you love and say this in you mind to them, then maybe think of someone who perhaps you don’t get on so well with.

However, it is really ok just to focus on yourself.

Look after yourselves.

Helen


Meditation and direct experience.

This week I joined one of our groups of students training to be meditation teachers with BSoM. We had a very interesting discussion about the scientific research that has been done over the last 30 years or so, on the benefits of meditation.  Science has been able to show that meditation can help with both physiological and psychological issues, it has even been shown to help us lay down more neurones in the brain.  Science has clearly shown that we can slow down our brainwaves.  I have put a few links at the bottom of this blog if you want to investigate further.  Part of the course is for the learner to write an essay and give a talk about the science that has been done to support the benefits of meditation.

One our students made the very valid point that we can get distracted by the science, that the benefits are a side issue, important but, possibly not why we meditate.

These are my thoughts on this, science is very important as in the age we live in people expect validation for what they do, they are not prepared to spend time just on an off chance that it may work for them.

So, the scientific evidence can be useful in pointing people in the right direction but it can not tell them what meditation is like.  It’s a bit like trying to explain what honey tastes like. You could say it is sweet, and has can have a smooth texture, although the taste can vary depending where the bees have gathered the pollen. It is only through actually tasting honey can we understand what it tastes like, this is a direct experience.  I can talk all day about the benefits of meditation and the experience but until someone try’s it themselves they cannot really know what it is like to meditate.  Also, within that experience, you have to understand that each meditation experience is different, the same as every jar of honey is different and that this is OK.  The important point is that you gave yourself permission to meditate and took time for yourself. through doing this you are giving yourself a direct experience of meditation.

Helen.

https://www.massgeneral.org/research/researchlab.aspx?id=1832

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/8862275/Meditation-improves-the-immune-system-research-shows.html


Ancient Meditations for Modern Times by Frans Stiene

Many ancient Asian meditation practices have come to the west since the early 60's. But are they of benefit in this modern day and age? 

We could say that any kind of meditation practice is of benefit, especially in turbulent times like the ones we are living in now!

However, we also need to look at what some of these meditation practices are doing to our mind, body and energy to see if they are of benefit or not.

One very common practice, currently taught in many meditation schools, is about resting our awareness on the tip of the nose and feeling the breath going in and out of the nostrils. 

From an energetic point of view this meditation is more focused on the upper part of our body, mainly the head. Therefore, we also can say that it is helping us to feel our interconnectedness to heavenly energy.

But when this meditation originally was developed and traditionally was practiced, people lived much more in harmony with the earth. They were therefore much more grounded and centred to begin with. They had, and they felt, a deep interconnection with the earth energy.

In our modern society, often we have mislaid this interconnection with the earth. We have lost our groundedness and centeredness due to being more in our heads. In our heads (and often through our mouths), we constantly ask why, how, who, what, when? And therefore we are always analyzing and over thinking things. Living in the head is also due to mobile phones, TV's, computers, etc., all of which distract and take us away from grounded and centred interconnectedness with the earth. But it is not only this: many of us also live in concrete cities, work in crammed offices, and rarely walk in nature anymore.

Thus, by first (and only) practicing a meditation technique which takes us even more in our head, we will become even more ungrounded and uncentred. 

In olden times when people lived more in harmony with nature and were not over thinking things, that ancient meditation technique was perfect. But we live in a very different world now. Things have changed. And therefore if we practice one of these ancient practices without first realizing that we need to be grounded and centred before we even start, we might unbalance our mind, body, and energy. This imbalance can happen even as we seek to find balance through the practice, because the practice needs a grounded, centred foundation that it will not have if we practice only from (and in) our heads.

Thus it is of utmost importance if we want to practice these ancient spiritual teachings, that we first work on rediscovering our interconnectedness with the earth.  

A tree cannot start by growing leaves and branches; it first needs to grow roots. And if the roots are not stable and the tree grows more towards heaven, it might even fall over and need to start anew. But if the tree has stable roots, then it can create a beautiful canopy.

This stable, grounded and centred feeling comes from bringing our mind and energy deep into our body, just below the navel; this is the centre of our roots.

As meditation teachers, we therefore need to be aware of the effects of our own practice and the changes in our way of being before we start to teach specific meditation practices to others. 

And just like the tree with stable roots can create a beautiful canopy of leaves and branches in time, if we as meditation practitioners and teachers work to rediscover and cultivate our connection to the earth, our practice can blossom and grow, literally from the ground up.

https://ihreiki.com/?v=79cba1185463

https://www.facebook.com/IHReiki/


Gratitude every day

Gratitude every day.

Sometime ago I wrote a blog on keeping a gratitude diary, which I still try to do most days (notice the try bit). In this blog I am hoping to expand on this.

I have just come back from visiting my daughter in the US, and I did not have a great night’s sleep last night, most likely still a bit jet lagged.  When the alarm went off, I got up, but was feeling in quite a grouch, the first thought that went through my mind was, ‘Why can’t David get up for once and bring me a cup of tea.’   You can see where this thought trail is leading, and I duly followed that trail.

After breakfast, which yes, I prepared, more thoughts!  I sat down with a cup of coffee, for a few minutes peace and quiet to start my day.  I opened my iPad and clicked on YouTube, and there at the top of my home page was a Gratitude Meditation, led by Bob Baker (who I have never heard of before) anyway I thought ‘Helen, let’s listen to this’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRnbKWapfEM

This simple meditation was just what I needed.  It reminded me of all the good things in my life, and I have plenty. The meditation worked through gratitude for: -

My five senses, and paused to think about if one was missing what gifts would this bring.

Family and friends

My home

My sense of wellbeing.

The food I have will have today and the farmers that have grown it.

This list went on, and I am sure you can think of other blessing in your life that you have gratitude for.

At times though life can be very tough. My family  and I have had to deal with a sudden bereavement which was very traumatic. However, even in the darkest moments I tried to think the blessings in my life. At this time, it was all the family and friends that travelled from great distances who supported us.  Without them it would have be truly hard, they made us laugh and we cried together this was a great healing. I thank them and bless them.

Helen


Mala beads

Mala beads

A few weeks ago, I went down to Bristol to join with Sarah Presley and her trainee meditation students. They were studying Unit 5 of our Meditation Teacher Training course which looks at how you can start your meditation business once you have qualified as an accredited teacher with The British School of Meditation. We had a really good day and I was delighted to hear from one of the students that he is planning to run meditation sessions within his company once he has qualified. He is also going to volunteer at Sue Ryder’s Hospice in Cheltenham.

At one of the breaks I saw that Sarah had sets of mala beads for sale. Mala beads are used in Buddhist meditation.  Mala beads consist of 108 beads which the meditator uses while meditating or chanting. The usual chant to do is ‘Om mani padme hum’. This mantra helps us to invoke loving feelings of compassion. It is the most widely used of Buddhist mantras.

I bought some sets of beads for my meditation students and at our next afternoon session we all chanted using the beads.

We listened to Tim Wheater’s track on his CD Invisible Journeys https://youtu.be/5eFLdqgOw-Q

You can buy the beads on Amazon and Etsy  

Happy chanting!


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