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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

Helen Galpin, co founder of the British School of Meditation talks about choosing music for meditation. In this video Helen talks about Music to aid your meditation practice, Helen includes three of her favourite pieces.  Music can really set the scene for your practice so it does need to be chosen with care, have fun finding your favourite piece of music to aid your meditation practice.  

Zen and the art of Relaxation. 

Touch of Silence, Tibetan Singing Bowls by Klaus Wiese

Reiki Gold by Llewellyn

Finding peace and calm in difficult times

We are slowly coming out of lockdown (13/07/2020) and getting used to the ‘new normal’. Many people are still very anxious about the virus and are reluctant to come out of their homes and go to shops, cafes, and restaurants.

How can meditation help us in these strange times?

Meditation can help ease our anxious thoughts. When we meditate, we are focussing on something other than our thoughts: our breath, a mantra, an object such as a candle flame or a flower. As we bring our attention to focus we have chosen then both mind and body can start to relax. We can move from the sympathetic nervous system which floods our bodies with the stress hormone cortisol into the parasympathetic nervous system which slows the heart rate, relaxes the nervous system, and helps us be calmer.

"Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment." -  Thich Nhat Hahn, Being Peace

A breath meditation we can use to help us be calmer is squared breathing: in this meditation we breath in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4 and hold for a count of 4.

If you are having problems sleeping an exercise to try is: breathe in for 4, hold for 7 and breathe out for 8 through slightly pursed lips.

 https://www.thedeepsleepco.com/4-7-8-breathing/

Wishing you safe and well, take care of yourself,

Mary

The power of mantras

The power of Mantras

This morning I meditated using my TM mantra. I have been practising TM for nearly 20 years now, and it has served me well. I am not alone in doing TM. Since it was introduced into the West by the Beatles in the 1960’s a great many people have adopted TM as their meditation practice. Some famous names include: Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Goldie Hawn and Jennifer Aniston. Famous people who meditate

When you learn TM, you are given a mantra to repeat silently twice a day for 15-20 minutes. Practising helps me to feel calm and centered and enables me to cope with whatever life may throw at me. TM website

There are however, many other mantras you can use successfully. Meditating on Lovingkindness involves repeating loving words silently in your mind, such as ‘May you be well, may you be happy’

One of our trainers, Sarah Presley, recently wrote about how a mantra helped her in her recovery from illness. She silently recited: I am strong, happy and healthy.

‘Calm’ is a wonderful mantra and for many it brings a sense of calm and well-being.

The most basic mantra is Om, which in Hinduism is known as the "pranava mantra," the source of all mantras.

Frans Stiene, http://ihreiki.com says this about mantras: ‘The main point of chanting a mantra is to stay mindful, with a single pointed concentration on the mantra itself. Thus, if we start to recite the mantra from memory, rattling it off while at the same time we follow our thoughts to the past, present, and future, then the mantra is in reality doing nothing at all. The real key in chanting mantras is that we stay single pointedly focused on the mantra itself. This is why sometimes if we learn a mantra and, after a lot of practice, we start to feel that we are just rattling it off by memory, we might need to refocus our concentration again. We can do this by focusing, for example, on the syllables of the mantra. Or we may need to begin working with a new or longer mantra so that our concentration becomes more single pointed again’.

So, mantras are powerful tools for meditation, however, they are a type of meditation not the only way to meditate. We all need to find the best form of meditation for ourselves, sometimes by trying several until you find the one for you.

Buddhist retreat online

Buddhist retreat

 

Last Saturday I did a mini Buddhist retreat via Zoom. It was run by the Buddhist centre in Cheltenham.

The retreat consisted of two talks and four meditations. Gen Kelsang Opel, the Buddhist nun leading the retreat explained that the purpose of the retreat was to help us let go of fear and anxiety that we might be experiencing at the present time.

We started with a powerful meditation where we imagined breathing out fears and anxieties as black smoke; and then breathing in happier thoughts in the form of white light. It was a reminder that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are transitory like clouds in the sky. The sky is our mind, the clouds represent our thoughts. This is a meditation I frequently do with my students. Another analogy we can use is the idea of waves on the ocean. The ocean is always there, the waves come and then go.

Our thoughts and feelings are impermanent, and true freedom comes from the realisation that our thoughts arise in our mind not outside of ourselves. Once we realise this we can then recognise, relax and release. It is just a cloud, or a wave and it will pass. One of the most powerful phrases we can think of at the present time is ‘This too will pass’. Nothing lasts forever.

Gen Opel talked about how we can distance ourselves from painful thoughts. That rather than thinking ‘I am very anxious’ we can instead think ‘anxious thoughts are arising in my mind’. We can stop identifying with our feelings/thoughts.

The Buddhists say that all of our unhappiness arises from our attachments. We believe our happiness depends on those external things/people we are attached to, and if we lose the object/person then we are unhappy. We have to realise that happiness is internal not external. Happiness is in our mind not in the external situations of our life.

We can train our minds to be happier through meditation. Loving kindness meditation helps us to be kinder and more loving towards ourselves and others.

Helen has a new vlog for us to watch:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0IvU45volk

 

I thought I would write a blog this week about the coronavirus.  This WHO image from the BBC shows the symptoms of the coronavirus.



Today there are 51 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. The total is expected to rise in the short term, but experts believe that once the temperatures start to rise in spring and summer then the virus will have less impact.


What do we need to do?


There is clear advice from the NHS:

Do

•    Always carry tissues with you and use them to catch your cough or sneeze. Then bin the tissue, and wash your hands, or use a sanitiser gel.
•    Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after using public transport. Use a sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.


Don't

•    Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
•    Avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

We can also meditate on feeling calm and centred. LovingKindness meditation could also be helpful. Sending LovingKindness to ourselves and others, especially anyone suffering with the virus.

Be well,

Mary

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.

Mary

 

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 

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 


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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.