Mind Clouds

Thoughts on mindfulness in daily life

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Never No Time To Practice

Let’s say you sleep in and miss your precious morning meditation slot. Feeling disgruntled it seems like the day’s already got off to a wobbly start. You say to yourself you’ll meditate in your lunch-hour at work but then around mid morning you remember you have a report to write up before the end of play and so you’ll have to work through lunch, grabbing a sandwich from the staff canteen to eat at your desk. So you think, it’s ok, I’ll meditate this evening, I’ll be a bit tired but….

Then the evening comes round, there’s the usual scramble to get supper prepared and the kids off to bed. You’re feeling pretty exhausted by now so you decide to relax in front of the TV for half an hour to watch that documentary on primates you recorded the other day – after which you will definitely go and meditate for 20 minutes.

As you watch the antics of the chimps clambering all over the presenter your eyes start to feel heavy, that irresistible sleepy feeling creeps up on you and then you’re gone. Waking up with a start at midnight you grumpily say to your partner, why didn’t you wake me up? And so you drag your weary body upstairs, half-asleep you brush your teeth, pull your clothes off, drop them on the floor and crash into bed.

Does this sound familiar? Or a variation on that theme perhaps? With all the best intentions in the world to fit in some meditation practice, life seems to run away with us and like all those other “self-improvement” schemes such as going to the gym or starting a creative project it just goes out the window.

But there’s good news if you’re ready to hear it. There is not one single moment in your daily life (ok we’ll miss out when you’re asleep for now) when you can’t practise mindfulness, from when you open your eyes in the morning to when you close them again at night.

You can be mindful of the feeling of lying there in bed, just woken by the alarm reluctant to make that drastic move of throwing back the duvet and lifting yourself up. Mindful as you pad to the loo, then half sleep walk into the bathroom to splash cold water on your face and brush your teeth. Mindful as you shower, or get dressed, all the physical sensations of movement and opening to your senses. Mindful of your feelings towards your family as you greet them and of theirs too. Mindful as you drive to work, or catch the train… well I think you get the idea.

There is so much potentially to open out to in our daily lives and many small opportunities to insert a mini-meditation or two – like when you’re sat at the traffic lights, waiting for a kettle to boil or a computer to start up, in between two tasks, in a meeting when you’re beginning to feel disengaged and bored. Not to mention mindfulness of all the activities of the day. At any point in your day you can drop down out of the world of thoughts in your head to connect with the breath. Follow the breath very consciously for 3 or 5 cycles, then carry on with what you were doing.

So there is actually, I’m afraid to say, no time when you can’t be practising mindfulness.

One caveat though. We won’t actually be able to be mindful all the time and nor should we strive to. One day we might get to the point where being in the present moment, fully embodied, is so natural that we don’t have to make an effort – but for most of us that’s a long way off. Just as when we sit to meditate we notice that our attention is one moment here with the breath, the next off with a thought and know that’s ok, it’s all one practice, so when practising mindfulness in daily life, we get stuck in auto pilot, we notice that and come back to a fuller awareness of what’s actually going on in our experience. There’s a kind of back and forth, a focusing and then a defocusing movement going on all the time in our awareness. Beware of striving to be rigidly aware all the time, almost hyper-vigilant of yourself as that easily slips into tension, self judgement and ultimately disillusionment and frustration.

So if you’re ready to try this out, set your intention, perhaps work out a few tricks to remind yourself to practice, but having a relaxed, playful attitude to it all. Seeing the whole of your life as a kind of vast playground to explore.

Photo Credit: Old Time by Ben Kersey courtesy of FreeImages


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Bursting the Balloon


Recently, I finished reading A Man in Love by Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard. There are many wonderful passages in the book, short essays and reflections, interspersed between the narrative web of memories of his own life, which made reading the book a rich feast for body and soul.  Above all, entering his world was an uncanny experience of piercing the usual membrane of separateness between self and other.  As I read it was as if I inhabited Karl Ove’s very skin at the same time as my own, his experiences and memories somehow merging with mine. There may be other writers who have achieved this same dissolution of barriers but I am not aware of them. I had grown tired of the “made-up-ness” of many novels, which pull you roughly along with their carefully constructed plot lines. In contrast I appreciate greatly the direct honesty of Knausgaard’s  writing. In a way, his “confessional” and rawly revealing style, as well as his willingness to log all the mundane details of life (and somehow keep you, the reader engaged), is an affirmation for me of my own lifelong habit of writing diaries. All the times when I’ve wondered what was the point to it all.

And during my immersion in Knausgaard’s world I found a thread of something I am increasingly interested in these days. How we find ourselves separated off from our external reality and especially other people, caught as we are in our own particular net of ways of thinking, views, beliefs, values and all the other mix of factors – where we grew up and when, our genes, physiology, family culture, local culture, who we’ve met along the way, the minor or major traumas and triumphs or failures that have fed into our being – not only mentally but viscerally. And also what we have in common, our underlying bonds as human beings. I was taken by this passage in particular:-

“Writing a novel is setting yourself a goal and then walking there in your sleep, Lawrence Durrell had once said that was what it was like, and it was true. We have access not only to our own lives but to almost all the other lives in our cultural circle, access not only to our own memories but to the memories of the whole damn culture, for I am you and you are everyone, we come from the same and are going to the same, and on the way we hear the same on the radio, see the same on TV, read the same in the press, and within us there is the same fauna of famous people’s faces and smiles. Even if you sit in a tiny room in a tiny town hundreds of kilometres from the centre of the world and don’t meet a single soul, their hell is your hell, their heaven is your heaven, you have to burst the balloon and let everything in it spill over the sides.”

This also reminds me of Kafka’s words:

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

I find in writing these blog posts, but especially in the less constrained space of my journals, this kind of uncovering process going on and meditation can be like this too. This getting under the skin of things, of paying deep attention, and of patience, a kind of waiting, that leads to deeper self-understanding and through that, or in addition to that, a kind of seeing into what unites us all. And what seems to separate us, the suffering in that.

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A place for letting go of ideas

This poem really spoke to where I am in myself this morning. Thank you Karl Duffy.


File:Barrow Towpath - geograph.org.uk - 1201066.jpg

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


photo kevin higgins

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It’s All Good


Unlike a child tearing open a bud to make the flower come out more quickly – you need patience.

Prompted by some recent discussions with people on the mindfulness course I’ve been running, I thought I’d write something about setting aside our usual goal-oriented approach to things. We’d been talking about judging our mindfulness practice as good or bad, effective or non-effective. Then someone summed it up perfectly saying “I’ve realised there’s no such thing as bad practice”. Exactly.

So yes, with mindfulness practice, it’s all good. The distracted sessions, the bored, or daydreamy or restless or peaceful ones – they’re all of equal value. But even knowing this, we can still get taken in by those thoughts popping up in meditation of “I’m really getting somewhere now,” or “I feel so spacious and relaxed and I want to always be like this” or “This is useless, I can’t meditate, who am I kidding?”

The crucial importance of this non-judging attitude isn’t easy to take on board and at increasingly subtle levels the judging goes on and on. Just this morning as I realised my mind had strayed off into planning thoughts yet again, a little thought voiced it’s opinion – “I’m really not good at meditating, am I?” Catching my inner critic at work like this, I reminded myself that the point is just to practice. Just to get down on that cushion (or chair) and show up for it. What happens next is less important.

Even a distracted, fragmented kind of meditation is worth its salt. Through it we learn a little more about how our unruly minds work. We’re bearing with and being with our experience. We are also bringing ourselves to physical stillness and presence which in itself is a mini revolution compared to the business as usual of never-ending restless doing-ness.

My main teacher, Lama Shenpen Hookham, often speaks about how important it is to not lose heart when we meditate, when we feel that we’re not getting anywhere. That the “successful” meditator is the one who doesn’t give up, in spite of all frustration. Also, the other day listening to a talk by Jeff Foster, I was struck by his reply to the question “what is true meditation?” that it is “meditation without a goal”.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much fun or a bit pointless? Sometimes I ask myself that same question (and I think it’s important to continue to ask questions, in any arena of life).

So what is the point? Oh, lots of reasons why – the flashes of understanding that come sometimes when you’re least expecting it, the growing sense of groundedness and easefulness in the world and the heart opening more and more. Those are just a few but – unlike a child tearing open a bud to make the flower come out more quickly – you need patience.

When I was thinking about this a book arrived in the post entitled “The Path is the Goal”. I’ve re-written that into “Practice is the Goal”, my new slogan. It really helps me to remember that.