So the great weight of responsibility falls to me to pen this newsletter! Gulp! I’m not known for being short of words, to strap yourselves in and make a hot drink!
It has been really great getting to know so many of you recently, both through my Tuesday evening online meditation course and then in the Facebook group accompanying it. In the Facebook group, we have been supporting each other with our questions and discoveries whilst establishing a steady meditation practice and generally having a good chat.
I love working in this way; with the live sessions and the chance to meet you all face to face (albeit virtually) so that people can throw questions at me directly as they arise. Although I truly don’t believe that I, or anyone, has the answer to another person’s questions, I do believe that each person will draw and take exactly what they need from whatever answer I, or anyone else, gives. It is so great to see the group gradually opening up and starting to share experiences and ideas. Everyone realises that they always had the ability to meditate and to observe their own behaviour. They may have just needed a little prompt to remember, or the confidence to know, that they are their own wisest advisor.
Almost everything that I share is infused with the idea of exploring our true ‘self’. As I have mentioned frequently, Tibetans talk about meditation as ‘Gom’ which means simply to be ‘familiar with’. I find this idea far more useful than the word meditation, which is so abstract and meaningless that we can imprint almost any significance upon it from our own conditioned ideas. I suppose that this ‘Gom’ and by extension ‘Atma Vichara’ or self enquiry is my own primary ‘practise’ – if indeed it could be termed a practise.
This is a very direct form of insight and was famously advocated by the (reluctant) modern day Indian teacher, Ramana Maharshi. Although he was a reluctant teacher and had to be pressed to suggest anything at all to most students.
Importantly here however is that it is my preferred practice and it is certainly not for everyone. Indeed many other practices over many years have led me to this point at this time. Maybe this will lead me to something else in the future, who knows? But it does underscore my firm belief that each one of us has a certain practice at a certain time; we can’t skip any part of our path and we shouldn’t worry about whether we are doing the ‘right thing’ or not. Inevitably everything that we do will always be perfect – it happened that way and therefore it must have been perfect or it would have happened differently. Whether we realise it at the time or not, whether we judge it as good or bad is irrelevant, that is just our thinking mind getting in the way, and the thinking mind is rarely, if ever a reliable guide.
So your practise might at this time be primarily a physical one, a breath based one, an internal one, it doesn’t matter, as long as you are practising something you are learning, and simply learning is the only real progression that we can rely on! If we are attentive, we will always be learning something; all other ideas around progressing, improving, getting better and so on are simply that tricky thinking mind getting involved again.
We will all be drawn to different teachers (or sharers as I prefer to call them) and we all have something equally as important to share with others, which comes from our own special life filled with unique experiences. After many years of observing amazing yogis as they grow into amazing sharers, this is something that I have seen over and again. Every person, whether they believe it or not, realise it or not, has something very magical to share with others. They might not even know what that thing is, but it is their superpower, and that superpower will hit certain other people at precisely the right time when they need it to.
As my 7pm Tuesday night sessions have turned into such a wonderful group affair, with the help of the crew at MFML we have decided to extend it into the near future.
The next instalment is in the run up to Christmas, traditionally a pretty taxing time for many of us! These four weeks from the 16th November will focus on the breath and the powerful way in which we can work with it to find greater peace and indeed health. I have always been drawn to breath work, having suffered with asthma throughout my life, there were many times as a child when I couldn’t speak or walk for lack of breath. As I grew older my curiosity led me to explore all sorts of breath based practices, not only the pranayama of yoga but the more circular feeling of the breath in taoist practices such as Tai chi and Qi Gong; the great depths of breath holding in freediving without oxygen tanks; the very functional emotional training using the breath as a tool in Russian systema and the other great Russian breath remediation technique of Buteyko, now taught by many physios in the NHS.
I am not a great advocate of powerful and forceful breaths found in yoga such as breath of fire, nor the over breathing of techniques found in the WimHof method for example. I have experimented deeply with both, for many years and there are many experiential and scientific reasons that they aren’t for me and I don’t teach them. Although once again, each person will be drawn to what they need to work through, so never dismiss any tool for all people!
Instead I work with a much more functional breath, an effort to simply explain why we have strayed from our natural and healthy breathing patterns due to modern day living – posture, clothing, diet and so on – and to then help us return to this with sme very simple methods and a healthy does of that self observation again!
I really have seen some incredible changes for people over the years, simply by pointing out some slight dysfunction in the way that they breathe. This is the easy part for me, the hard part is then dedicating yourself to work with that. Only you can ever do the work!
So I hope to see some of you soon on a dark Tuesday evening, and share some giggles, some experiments and some breath with the rest of us.