3 Ways to Enjoy Deeper, Happier Meditation

Question: “How do I go deeper in my meditation?”
Ajahn Brahm: “As long as there is a ‘you’, you can’t go deeper. In true meditation, there is no meditator.”

One of my deepest experiences of meditation happened extremely effortlessly.

I felt like I wasn’t trying at all.

I was completely content, and found myself deeply at peace, energised and blissed out.

Wohoo!

It was like my usual small self with all his concerns and thoughts just wasn’t there.

‘I’ loved it!

But how can you achieve deep meditation?

To find out, let’s start with a bit of fun psychology.

Flow States are like a deep meditation

Have you ever had that feeling of flow?

That’s when you are so engaged in an activity, you even forgot that you’re doing it.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, he found that in what he calls ‘flow’ states, people lose their sense of self, sometimes very often.

I know in my personal experience, my most pleasurable experiences have been when I lose myself in an experience.

Even the world famous band, Daft Punk, has a popular song titled ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’.

I do love losing myself to dance when listening to that song!

Lose yourself...to find yourself

We all have this experience of losing ourselves every night, when we fall asleep.

Your sense of self and control disappear. Yes, you may dream, but that happens by itself.

So in some ways, your usual everyday sense of self comes and goes - almost like it’s not real.

Many scientists also agrees that the self is like an illusion. I read a fascinating book years ago, called the Self Illusion, that cited lots of fascinating research in this area.

Deep meditation arises when you let go of your little self, lose yourself in the experience and experience this sense of flow.

You’re probably wondering, how do you actually get into these flow states when meditating…

Well, here’s some tips that have worked for me, with a big dollop of patience.

Step #1: Don’t try to let go

If you’re trying to let go, you’re not letting go! You’re doing something. So rather than trying to let go, let your experience be.

The whole point of meditation is to let go of doing, so you can let things be.

Let’s say your shoulders are tense. You feel the shoulders. You send kindness to them. You make peace with the feeling of tension. You smile towards it. You let it be. In this way, your shoulders will relax in their own sweet time.

Ultimately, meditation is the art of letting go. Letting go of past and future, letting go of thoughts and emotions, letting go for fears and anxieties.

And when you let your experiences be, letting go happens, and you step into a wonderfully peaceful and joyous place within.

Step #2: Set a very clear intention at the beginning of your meditation

Say to your mind, as consciously as you can: ‘Now is my time for meditation. Let go of past and future, let go of past and future, let go of past and future’.

A teacher told me this is ancient technique actually - a way of instructing your mind to do the job of meditation for you.

After you’ve told your mind these instructions, let your mind just be, and see what happens.

You may find that your mind quietens and you are more often able to enjoy your meditation. Definitely worth a go!

Step #3: Pretend you’re already ‘enlightened’

“I have arrived. I am home.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Some people want to be enlightened. Some people just want peace of mind. Others want to de-stress or focus better.

What do you want from meditation?

The problem is, the very act of wanting/craving/desiring is the cause of your suffering. This insight comes from the Buddha - the good old second noble truth.

So....craving too much to be relaxed, at peace, stress-free, enlightened, more focused, a deeper meditation - all these desires are what are preventing the very experience you’re seeking.

A clever technique is to pretend you already have all your desires fulfilled. Whatever you want, let’s say enlightenment, you already have it.

You’re a Buddha, at last!

So now, you can chill. When you meditate, you can do that serene smile that the Buddha always seems to have.

After all these years of hard work and striving, you can finally rest - you deserve it!

Summary

Deeper meditation is not achieved by trying harder to have a deep meditation.

Deep meditation comes when you step out of the way.

When you let your experience be, you’re ‘moving’ in the right direction.

Be at peace with your experience now. Be kind to your body and mind.

You’re good enough.

You’re already home.

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5 Tips for Mindful (and Kindful) New Year Resolutions

Every year is different. Every moment is fresh and full of exciting new possibilities.

It’s never been 2017 before - so let’s get excited about it and also try some new strategies.

Would you like to try a more focused approach to reading this blog too? If so, turn off all your notifications and phones and go grab yourself a nice warm beverage.

Then, take a few deep breaths, and read this article nice and slowly...let the words sink in and take time to reflect on each tip, before you move on.

1. You’re beautiful just the way you are

This is important, dear reader.

You not being fit enough, or not meditating enough, or not having a partner does NOT make you a bad person. Not even slightly bad.

I’m inviting you to think of yourself as absolutely beautiful and perfect in your imperfections just the way you are.

Look at this crooked tree…

So beautiful, right? Even though it’s not perfectly symmetrical and straight. There’s a beauty to it. Think of yourself in the same way.

Beauty lies in imperfection. And you were imperfect this year and will be next year, and that why we love you!

2. Make your new habit joyful!

I’m still in the process of reflecting on what my resolution is going to be. But whatever I choose, I’m going to make it fun!

If you can’t handle too much fun, at least make it a bit joyful...or something that’ll put a smile on your face. Otherwise, there really is no point!

When you feel joyful doing your mediation or singing classes or whatever you choose, your new habit will be like a magnet...you can’t help but keep doing it.

3. Don’t be a control freak

Don’t think you need to boss your body and mind around to form a new habit.

If on a given day, your mind really doesn’t want to go on a run, fine! It’s not the end of the world.

There’s always tomorrow...or later on today...or a walk instead of a run.

Being harsh and forcing your body and mind to create a new habit isn’t the way to go about it, contrary to normal beliefs.

Nice and easy does it.

You’ll feel like you’re ‘letting yourself off the hook’.

But haven’t you already tried this approach of excessive discipline on yourself, followed by so-called ‘failure’?

Try something much more radically friendly to yourself this year!

Treat yourself like you’d treat a small child trying to walk for the first time - with plenty of smiles and encouragement, without force.

4. Expect little failures and prepare your self-compassion

Expect failure doesn’t sound good, I know.

But if you just expect success with your new habit of, say, writing every morning, then you don’t manage it for a day or two, you can be prepared to re-start the habit.

But if you just expect 100% success and miss just one day, you’ll think you were a total failure and totally give up. Now maybe you can see the problem with excessively high expectations of yourself...

I remember reading research on people addicted to alcohol. If they had more self-compassion to themselves when they had the odd drink, they were less likely to feel bad and less likely to binge on the drink after one night slip.

However, if they really beat themselves up mentally and emotionally for breaking their habit once, they relapsed into lots of drink.

So being nice to yourself when you slip up doesn’t only feel good, it works!

5. Start so small, it feels silly

Whatever new habit you choose, make it so easy to start with, it’s really hard to fail.

So if meditation is a new habit you wish to start, begin with 1 minute every morning!

Or 5 minutes. Whatever feels really short to you.

It’s so short, it’s very easy to do and hard to feel like it’s too long. And then build up from there.

6. Bonus tip: Hook up

Research quoted by Richie Davidson shows that if you want to develop a new habit, piggyback on an existing habit.

For example, you may have a shower every morning. Well, you can do your daily meditation practice immediately after your daily shower. Then you’re more likely to remember to do it.

Summary

Take a more friendly, gentle approach to cultivating your new year resolution, and you’re much more likely to make it a part of your new daily routine.

The key is to remember that you’re fine just the way you are and whatever new habit you create doesn’t make you a better person...you’re already good enough!

Thinking as small as possible, being kind to yourself when you don’t stick to your new habit, and enjoy the journey are my ‘kindful’ tips for a happier, healthier new year.

If you wish to make meditation a new habit, start your 7-days Free Kindfulness meditation.

Secrets of Wisdom from ex-Indian President and Rocket Scientist

Before I share with you the amazing synchronicity of what I found in the trash (old bucket to be precise), I need to share a little back story.

Both my grandparents, on my mum’s side, died a few years ago.

They came to the UK from East Africa. Following a revolution and losing all their possessions and property, they got British Passports, and began life in London, starting from nothing.

They were both very spiritual, and went every week to a Hindu temple. The Swaminarayan temple in north London. It was in an old disused warehouse which they converted into a big hall.

My grandparents used to take me there from time to time as a child. I enjoyed prostrated in front of the statues - it made me feel like an adult! I remember the dusty carpet as my nose touched the floor, and feeling like it was so tiring after about a minute or two of bowing down and getting up. I was amazed how fit by grandad was as I struggled to keep up!

The temple was in a large hall - simple in design. It seemed quite large to me, as a child. But they had bigger plans.

When I was about 10 years old, I remember my grandfather collecting aluminium cans from the streets of London, to raise money for a new temple. I may have helped him once...I’m not sure.

He walked for hours in the cold to find those cans. The temple was using the collected cans to raise money for a grand project they had in mind. They had a big vision.

Ultimately, 7 million cans were recycled! It turned out to be one of the largest recycling projects in the UK.

A few years later, the community built the biggest Hindu Temple in Europe. Here’s what it looks like now!

neasden temple.jpg

As stated here, ‘In total, a hundred full-time volunteers and over a thousand part-time volunteers offered their time and talent over the two years, many taking extended holidays or a gap year, and some even leaving their jobs and businesses.’

The head of the religious organisation was Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He died recently - 13th August 2016.

You can see his picture and find out more about him on the temple website here.

I never really followed the religion, and mainly went to the temple on Diwali - the festival of light. In fact, it’s coming up again in a few weeks.

But the other morning, as I was walking to my local cafe, I saw a book, half-soaked with water, in a bucket, dumped outside someone’s house. I took a photo and picked it up, to read in my local cafe.

transcendence in the bin.jpg

The book was written by former Indian President, Abdul Kalam. I’ve heard lots of incredible stories about Kalam. A rocket scientist, turned Indian President. Many consider him one of the greatest presidents India has ever had.

Once I arrived at my cafe, order a cup of English Breakfast tea and after exchanging some banter with the barista I sat down.

I glanced through the table of contents, and decided to read the chapter on Compassion.

I chose this because just last week, I was attending the International Empathy and Compassion Conference in Oslo. I was invited with Awake Academy, to film with James Doty, Head of the Center for Compassion at Stanford University and Prof. Paul Gilbert, leading compassion researcher based in the UK.

As I read through the chapter on compassion, it talked about two teachers, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and one of his key translators, Thubten Jinpa.

Here is the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s words on compassion, shared in the book:

Warm-heartedness is a key factor for healthy individuals, healthy families and healthy communities. Scientists say that a healthy mind is a major factor for a healthy body. If you are serious about your health, think and take most concern for your peace of mind. That’s very, very important.

Kamal goes on to quote Thupten Jinpa’s definition of compassion

‘A mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering is relieved’.

Thupten Jinpa highlights three elements of compassion:

Cognitive: ‘I understand you’.
Affective: ‘I feel for you’.
Motivational: ‘I want to help you’.

In the book, it shares how the Dalai Lama even visited one of their temples. The Dalai Lama said this of his visit:

‘Your Organisation is doing great service to mankind by spreading the message of goodness and joy. It is indeed commendable that the Swaminarayan movement has not limited its work to the movement alone, but has gone out in society and conducted a door-to-door crusade against the evils of society, to promote peace and harmony. I am deeply impressed by the fact that the youths are so actively involved in the activities of this movement.’
Dalailama.jpg

In another bit of synchronicity, my dad has actually read this book too. He enjoyed it. And he’s not religious as such, either. Apparently the President worked with Pramukh Swami as he has a network of many volunteers in India.

Strange how I discovered all this through the book in that bucket.

When I was little, Pramukh Swami wasn’t that famous. He used to visit homes. And he visited our home!

So, in his honor, I’d like to finish this post with these words from Pramukh Swami Maharaj, from the end of the book Transcendence, which I found in that bin.

Kalam concludes with two quotes. He starts with Albert Einstein:

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown solus with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labours of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.

Kalam goes on to say:

It simply overwhelms me to see how beautifully these words are summarised by the life and message of Pramukh Swamiji. It is like a scientific formula of spirituality.

In the good of others lies our own;
In the progress of others lies our own;
In the joy of others lies our own.

I hope you’re inspired to research further into this organisation, and to explore what service and compassion means for you.

If you have any thoughts or insights to share, feel free to do so.

Thanks!

 

Links:

BAPs Charities - secular charity, focusing on the spirit of service
Mystic India - award winning film, based on the life of Swami Narayan

If you are interested in teaching mindfulness in different settings, make sure you join our special program - next course launching soon!

New free 7 day Kindfulness Course started this week! Visit kindfulnessonline.com and get started in world's first online kindfulness program in collaboration with Awake Academy!

How to Teach Mindfulness to a Child

‘Jonny, it’s time for mindfulness!’

Do you wish you were taught mindfulness as a child? I do! I never knew that thoughts were not facts. No one told me a short exercise could leave me feeling relaxed and happy.

But how can you go about teaching mindfulness to a child? Here are some key points and tips that may help you teach mindfulness to children.

Remember the fundamentals of mindfulness

Mindfulness is a present moment awareness with ‘mindful attitudes’. Different mindfulness teachers emphasise different values, but for me, being kind is the most important. That’s why I call it kindfulness rather than mindfulness.

Here’s some key attitudes of mindfulness:

  • Present-moment awareness - being aware of any of your senses or inner thoughts and emotions. It’s the opposite of being lost in your thoughts or multi-tasking.
  • Kindness - learning to be nice and friendly to yourself and others in thoughts, words and actions. Sometimes, it’s called compassion.
  • Curiosity - being interested in the world around us and within us. Ideally, you would also be cultivating a sense of awe or wonder along with curiosity, which research shows is very good for you too - making you happier and healthier.
    • Allowing or acceptance - letting things be instead of trying to change them, especially when it comes to emotions and thoughts, and observing experiences instead of trying to control or fight them. Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, and the Buddha essentially stated: To be happy, you need to let go of control. Grasping and controlling is the root cause of suffering and unhappiness.

Set a good example

As you probably know, children learn a lot more from your behaviour than from your words. Try these tips to help your child be more mindful.

Practise mindfulness regularly

I know this is easier said than done. But you can’t expect to tell your child to be mindful if you’re not very mindful yourself. That won’t work too well, I reckon.

BUT! Remember, mindfulness is more than just meditating all the time. It’s about being kind and forgiving of yourself and others. Kindfulness is what you’re really doing and sharing. Be kind to yourself each time you accidently snap at your child. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the perfect teacher or parent. Treat yourself as you’d treat a friend, and your self-compassion will shine through to your child.

Schedule time to be present with your child

If you’re super busy, it can be easy to forget to be present with your child. If you run your life on a calendar or diary, use it to schedule times when you can be mindful with your child. Listen to them, talk to them, play games with them. See if you can switch your phone off and have some quality time with your child while having digital detox yourself. As you spend time with them being mindful, they in turn will start being more present too.

Make it fun

Children are automatically attracted to anything fun. A bit like me! Try these approaches when sharing mindfulness with your child.

  • Short meditations

When sharing meditations with your child, keep them nice and short. Long meditations are not fun for children. And if they associate mindfulness with boredom rather than the pleasure of relaxation, they’re less likely to engage in it. Even one minute is a nice start.

  • Connecting with senses

Think about creative ways to get your child to connect with their senses. It could be listening to music, playing in the sand, looking at and drawing a tree, smelling different scents, tasting some food very slowly, or feeling lovely textures. Mindfulness can be done in all sorts of creative, artistic ways. Anything that gets your child out of their head and into the conscious moment of now is mindfulness.

  • Colouring in

Colouring is all the rage for adults nowadays, but don’t forget it can be great for children. Some kids love it, so give them time to carefully colour some positive images.

  • Simply playing

Playtime is obviously very good for children. I see playing as a key element of mindfulness. In play, children are letting go and engaging in the present moment. If you can let your child play in nature, they will have a beautiful way of developing a more mindful brain. As I said earlier, too much control is the cause of suffering, and letting go leads to a happier life. The more you can let go and let your child play, the more your child may pick up this subtle way of being and be less controlling in their own life too.

Adapt for different ages

Children of different ages need different approaches to mindfulness.

Younger children—stories and games

I don’t have exact ages here, but each child is different, and if you know them, you’ll know what they like. Stories are very engaging for young children in particular. Find some ‘mindful’ stories online or in books, and read them to your child. Ideally, find a story which includes a little mindful exercise or some deep breathing.

I mentioned games and fun activities earlier. What sorts of games cultivate mindfulness? Here are a few games you can play with your child:

  • Play memory games. For example, have your child look at a tray of objects while they try to memorise them, and then ask them to recall the objects.
  • Listen to the sound of a bell until it dissipates into silence.
  • Do ‘spot the difference’ exercises.
  • Put a teddy bear on their belly, and ask them to watch their teddy go up and down as they breathe.
  • Let them colour.
  • Teach them how to do origami.
  • Teach them fun children’s yoga poses described as different animals.
  • Sing and dance with them.
  • Sleeping lions - This is where children have to be as still and quiet as possible as they lie on the floor. That’s great for young children and fun for the adults to see, too!

Older children

Older children, teenagers and above, may start appreciating more serious meditations. You could try getting them to listen to:

  • Body scan meditation
  • Awareness of breath meditation
  • Short loving-kindness meditations
  • Mountain or Lake meditations

You can get these audio tracks when you buy most books on mindfulness, including mine. In fact, in my book Mindfulness for Dummies, there’s a whole chapter on teaching mindfulness to children. But try a few out different audios, and pick a voice and guidance that works well for your child.

Conclusion

When teaching mindfulness to children, setting an example is most important. Making it fun is key, especially for younger children. Be creative so it’s fun for you to share mindfulness in different ways. If you’re excited to share mindfulness, the young child will sense that too.

Use nature to cultivate mindfulness—spend time in nature with your child if possible. Even planting seeds in a pot is valuable.

Finally, short meditations are an important skill to teach children, so sharing some short guided mindfulness exercises with your child, whether you do the guiding yourself or via audio, is a great idea.

Do you know any other tips, resources or good ideas of teaching mindfulness to children? Please share in the comments below so we all learn together.

To find out more, and if you’re in London on Tuesday, 27 September 2016, attend a talk with Richard Burnett of Mindfulness in Schools and Beyond with Action for Happiness.

Mindfulness for Beginners: Tips and tricks

Have you ever wondered, ‘what exactly is mindfulness?’

Or maybe thought ‘I understand it, but maybe not.’ If so, read on... This blog post may just answer your mindful prayers.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about cultivating a conscious, present-moment awareness.

Most of the time your mind wanders, unconsciously, to thoughts about the past and future. Through practising mindfulness, you discover how to be more present to your experiences in the here and now.

Mindfulness often also embodies mindful attitudes like being kind to yourself, cultivating a sense of curiosity about your experiences and accepting whatever experience is arising for you.

Mindfulness is great, but is in some sense only the beginning. It’s important for mindfulness to be cultivated together with kindness and compassion for yourself, and others. This is what I call kindfulness.

Everyday Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be cultivated every day and in every moment. Here are some examples:

Home

At home, any repetitive physical task is ideal for being mindful. When washing the dishes, notice the temperature of the water, the colour of the bubbles, any tensions in your body. When having a cup of tea (as we often do here in the UK), be aware of the colour of the tea, the weight of the cup and the pleasurable feeling of enjoying the taste. Hmmm.

Work

Notice your feet on the floor as you walk from one room to the next. Be conscious of your bodily posture and sensations as you sit down and stand up. Take a few moments to pause and breathe at the end of one task and the start of another.

Relationships

When your partner, friend or colleague is speaking, practice listening non-judgmentally. No need to constantly plan what you’re going to say next. Instead, just listen as deeply as you can.

Ask follow up questions rather than being tempted to keep stating your own ideas. Be present to their words, body language and tone of voice.

Travelling

If driving, spend less time talking on your phone or listening to the radio, and more time being present to the experience. When in traffic, take time to notice the sky, the clouds and the rain. When cruising, watch the road ahead and be aware of your bodily sensations from time to time too.

If you’re on a train or bus, notice your surroundings. Be aware of the view outside - trees, birds, sky and people. Notice people inside too, and see if you can drop your usual judgments of other and be more curious and open instead.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is most powerfully boosted through practising mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is when you take the time to stop for a while and just practice mindfulness exercises. I like to meditate every morning. But you can practice whenever you like.

Here’s an easy one for you to try:

1.    Sit or lie down. Get as comfortable as you can.

2.    Take a few deep breaths and notice your body relax a bit

3.    Spend a minute or so feeling what your body feels like. Use your mindful awareness to notice how your body is feeling. Adjust your posture now so you’re even more comfortable.

4.    Let your breathing be natural as best you can. Count 10 breaths. If you lose count, start again.

5.    When your notice your mind has wandered to other thoughts, just smile. You’ll naturally come back to the present moment, in that moment.

6.    Gently end the exercise when you’re ready to do so, with a little stretch. Notice how you feel and the effects of the meditation.

What’s the secret to successful mindfulness meditation?

There’s two secrets actually!

1.    Don’t try to get anything out of it - it sounds crazy, I know, but the more you want to be relaxed or peaceful or anything - the more you’re stressing your mind. Instead, let it be. The Beatles knew what they were singing about.

2.    Be incredibly kind to your body and mind. Let your body be really comfortably and cosy. Be totally forgiving to your mind each time it wanders off. Infact, let it wander off if it wants to, and smile to welcome it back when it does come back. It always will.

Overcoming common problems

Too much thinking

If you find you just can’t control your thoughts, don’t. Instead, just stop controlling. For goodness sake, let your mind wander and just observe it. Trust me on this and you’ll discover something amazing within minutes. Everyone wants to constantly try and control their mind and that’s when the problems start.

If you still want another technique, try counting your breaths, or use a mantra. Each time you breathe in, say ‘peace’ and each time you breathe out say ‘let go’ in your mind. Once your mind calms, you can stop doing that.

Not enough time

Think you’re too busy to meditate or be mindful? Then you really need to do this mindfulness stuff!

Start with 1 minute everyday. Take deep in and out breaths and really feel them. The benefits of improved focus and relaxation will probably gain you an extra 10 minutes in the day, if not more. Mindfulness is the ultimate investment of time. That’s why CEOs and top leaders do it too, even though they are more busy than you are.

But I can’t concentrate!

Mindfulness is not concentration. It’s not about trying hard to focus. It’s about LETTING GO. At the beginning of your meditations, your mind will go wild and think a lot. Have courage and faith in the process. With time, one day, you’ll find your mind calms. It takes a lot of patience but it well worth the time. Everyday will be different. Some days are easier than others, for sure.

Tips for success

Smile

This is one of the best tips. Most people take mindfulness far too seriously. And physically smiling on your face as you practice a mindfulness meditation is a ‘game changer’. Give it a try if you’ve never done it before. One of those little subtle smiles works well, just like on the Buddha statues!

Relax

Meditation is about relaxing your body and relaxing the mind. Don’t try too hard. Don’t worry if you can’t focus or your mind wanders. How do you relax? By being aware of whatever comes into your awareness, and being kind to it.

Let go of wanting

Wanting, desiring, craving...these are all dragging you out of the present moment. They are all saying, this present moment is not good enough. This present moment is good enough. Try accepting this moment just as it is, with a smile, and your natural mindfulness will flourish.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is about being present to your moment-to-moment experiences, ideally with a sense of kindness, curiosity and acceptance. Through practising mindfulness everyday and/or mindfulness meditations, you’ll feel more relaxed, be more focused and be happier. The secret is to be kind to yourself as you practice, and to let go of trying to achieve a particular goal as you practice. If you have any questions or tips, share them below!