24 August 2020


 Currently, mindfulness is all the rage in meditation land as it is easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to integrate into our lives, easy to research – and it delivers on its promises – it works! 

Yet when it comes to the actual practice of mindfulness, did you know there are two types, and why it is important to practice one before the other? So this week, some practice tips along with explanation of the two types of mindfulness (drawn from the content of my recent book, Blue Sky Mind - the Art of Meditation), but first

Thought for the day

The general idea is that if you open yourself up 

To what the given situation is, 

Then you see its completely naked quality. 

You do not have to put up a defence mechanism anymore, 

Because you see through it 

And you know exactly what to do. 

You just deal with things, 

Rather than defending yourself.

Chogyam Trungpa

Mindfulness can be defined as the awareness that comes from paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally. So how does it work in practice? There are two ways we can pay attention to our present moment experience — with focussed mindfulness and with open mindfulness.

1. Focussed mindfulness - This is where we choose to pay attention to just one thing. 

This way of deliberately focusing our attention gives us a way to block out other thoughts and distractions and helps to settle a restless mind. It is easy to learn, easy to practise, and translates easily into daily life.

Common things to focus upon include the breath, the sounds around about us, the sensations in our body and our thoughts as they travel through our mind.

With focussed mindfulness we need to concentrate and maintain our focus. This takes energy. If we do find our mind becoming distracted or wandering, we need to notice that and bring our attention back to our chosen point of concentration. And while this does take some energy, some effort; focussed mindfulness is the best way to begin learning mindfulness and practising it formally. 

2. Open mindfulness –  This is where we do not focus our attention on one particular thing, but remain more open and pay attention to whatever it is that does happen to come into our awareness.

So in this version of mindfulness we simply aim to remain open and curious. This can be likened to a wise old woman sitting back and watching children play. There is an ease and a comfort with what the children are doing, perhaps even an inner knowing that it is just games they are playing. Maybe too a level of care to notice if anyone does need help, yet no particular need to interfere or change anything; just a deep contentment to observe the children at play.

To accomplish open mindfulness as a part of our meditation, we start by sitting and relaxing, then if our attention goes to some sounds from outside, we simply notice them, free of any judgement or commentary. We leave the sounds as they are.

Then if our attention is taken by some sensations in our body, we simply notice those. Maybe then thoughts fill our awareness and again, the aim is to simply notice them; let go of any afterthought, any commentary, any judgement. Simply notice whatever it is that does come into our awareness, and leave it as it is. Open mindfulness.

Open mindfulness requires less effort than focussed mindfulness, but when we do it the potential to become distracted is greater. So it makes good sense to learn, practise and become reasonably adept with focussed mindfulness first because this is how we learn the technique of mindfulness and develop our basic skills. 

Focussed mindfulness definitely requires effort, the effort to focus our attention and learn a new technique. However, as we develop some capacity with this version of mindfulness, we move on into open mindfulness. And good news. Once we have some experience with it, open mindfulness requires little effort. In fact, when open mindfulness is flowing well, it is completely effortless. 

In open mindfulness there is nothing specific we need to focus upon. It is inherently relaxing. There is just one significant potential difficulty. When compared to focussed mindfulness, with open mindfulness it is relatively easy to become caught up or distracted by whatever it is that does come into our awareness. So the key to open mindfulness is learning and developing the capacity to remain undistracted. 

While we are in the process of developing our capacity with open mindfulness, we need to take account of the fact that as life goes on we may well experience times where our thoughts and emotions do distract us seriously. At such times, without beating ourselves up with feelings of guilt or shame, we may well benefit from devoting our regular practice to a more focussed form of mindfulness. Then, as we do come to feel more settled, we can expand out into open mindfulness once more. 

So to finish, more good news. Whether it be focussed or open mindfulness we are practicing, once we have learnt how to relax our body, settle our mind, sit still and remain undistracted, then we truly are making some progress. And the best bit? As we do remain undistracted, that deeper stillness of meditation begins to unfold; to become more apparent. Open mindfulness makes for a natural prelude to the deeper experience of real meditation.

May your mindfulness lead you into meditation…

10 August 2020

The secret to less doing, more being

 Doing, doing, doing. With so many people busy doing this and doing that; doing, doing, doing; how is it we call ourselves “human beings” rather than “human doings”?

This week we go Out on a Limb once again and explore the differences between human doings and human beings, and examine how a simple mind shift can have us being more and yet actually doing more. Also news of the first weekly meditation Zoom gatherings for those using our Allevi8 App, but first

Thought for the day

Love thy neighbour

As thy self

Mark 12 : 31

Love this quote. It points directly to a common misinterpretation amongst Christians; and having grown up deeply steeped in Christianity I can speak from experience. 

The problem? Putting the focus on “love thy neighbour” and overlooking “As thy self”. 

The image of the Christian martyrs is both heroic and compelling. Giving up all, even their own lives for the sake of others; the love of others. Compelling. And many completely noble and without fault. Yet so many people I have spoken with over the years, inspired by that ethos have given freely and fully of themselves while neglecting themselves only to end up exhausted, often disillusioned, burnt out and dissatisfied.

The injunction in the quote is clear… “As thy self”. 

So the first thing to clarify is that all of us do want to help others. Of course. However, what is also clear is that to help others we need to start with ourselves. Once we have some inner stability, strength and resources, then we are well placed not only to help others but to sustain our efforts, be effective long-term and to enjoy the process, even if it entails hard work. We then have a good chance of ending up both accomplished and satisfied. This much is reasonably obvious.

But then we can go further… “As thy self”… Which self is being spoken of? The active self? The ego with all its plans, hopes and fears? Its infinite capacity to become distracted, to complicate even simple matters, to surreptitiously put itself ahead of others under the guise of service – and so on. You probably get what I mean.

But then there is that more essential part of self. Now to be clear, nothing wrong with the active, ego driven self. We all have that and it is a part of who we are. But does it drive us, or does it take us for a useful ride – as in we control it and use it for good purpose?

For the essential self - some call it soul, some call it Atma, or the true nature of our mind – this self is inherently pure and filled with love, clarity and wisdom. It is like saying a lemon tree produces lemons and an orange tree produces oranges. Both are useful, but they are different. The essential self can only produce love, clarity and wisdom. That is a fact.

So here is the thing; the simple shift that leads us to be less ego-centric and more true self-centric. Meditation. When we meditate we have this opportunity to get to know our mind, and our self, better. All aspects. The active mind and the still mind. The ego and the true self. 

And when through meditation we begin to glimpse something of that Still Mind, we come to experience something of its innate qualities and we come to know something of this true self – quite naturally. 

The fruit that flows from the meditation tree is love, clarity and wisdom. Simple really. Just requires some technique and regular practice. And not allowing that mischievous active mind to get in the way too much and block the flow. 

It is all about letting go of the doing and allowing the being… And paradoxically, it turns out the more we “be”, the more we can “do”. Win – win!

Happy Meditating

Allevi8 – our new, free meditation App

Ruth and I have been heartened by early responses to Allevi8. If you have not sampled it as yet, it contains specific practices designed to alleviate stress and anxiety, build emotional and mental health, relieve pain, foster healing and help find meaning amidst tough times.

It is free, there is a choice of Ruth’s voice or mine. You can pay it forward if you find it useful and want others to benefit. Simply search Allevi8 in your App store.

And for those who are using it, we start the first of what are planned to be weekly Zoom meditations this Monday, 9th August from 8pm EST to 8.45. Once you join the App, within a short while, an email will be sent with the link to the weekly meditation meetings. Join us?