The Whole of Buddhist Philosophy Summarised in One Sentence

Renowned meditation teacher Ajahn Brahm was asked by a busy executive:

'Can you summarise Buddhism in one sentence? I'm in a hurry, be quick!'

As Brahm didn't have much time to think about the answer, he instantly replied with great wisdom:

'If you want something more, you can't enjoy what you already have.'

Take a few moments to reflect on this.

If you let go of all your want right now, how would you feel? Just for now...

Feeling more peaceful already?

How to find moments of peace

It's natural to want and desire things. That's what drives your actions.

But you need times in the day to let go of wanting too.

Especially when life seems far from ideal.

To allow the moment to be just as it is. To let your crazy mind be crazy. To smile at your wild emotions. To let your body fall apart without fighting it.

Moments when you let go of wanting are moments of contentment. The heart of happiness.

It's especially important to let go of this wanting in your mindfulness/meditation practice.

Contentment is the greatest wealth. - Buddha

Practice of the week:

Cultivate contentment. Let go of wanting. Let this moment right now just be as it is. Enjoy even the briefest moment of peace in your busy day.

How can you do that? Each time you need to check the time, remember to try this:

Breathe deeply.

Smile widely.

Be.

Helping Someone with Anxiety: Using Mindfulness and More

Recently, I’ve had to support a few friends and family members going through anxiety or other challenges.

And some people have also come up to me to ask how to support their friends going through anxiety.

With at least 1 in 4 people going through some kind of mental health challenge, I’m sure the majority of you are facing or will face having to support someone with anxiety.

I’ve put together the best advice I could find on the subject from two charities - MIND and the Samaritans - together with my mindful approach.

1. Empathise with them

Think back to the last time you were going through anxiety. How would you have liked to be helped?

You probably would want to spend time with someone calm until the anxiety passed.

Here’s where you can use mindfulness and kindfulness skills if you’ve done some training. You can mindfully breathe as you’re listening. If walking with them, you can do some mindful walking together.

Above all, whatever your training, be kind and non-judgmental.

Let them know that the feelings will pass, and you’re there for them.

2. Ease off on pressure

By staying calm and listening to them, you’re not putting any pressure on them. You may be tempted to help them face their fears and find solutions, but this can be very stressful for someone who’s not ready for that yet.

Try some mindful breathing or other calming exercises yourself, whilst you’re with them, to help you remain centred and peaceful.

Remember, by just listening you're giving them one of the greatest gifts. 

3. Ask how you can help

Ask them how you can help. Maybe they know about mindfulness, breathing exercises or the value of distracting themselves temporarily.

You could show them this page on self-care for anxiety and see if they want to try any of them, or if you can help them to practice one of them.

4. Learn about anxiety

You may benefit from learning a bit more about anxiety. You’ll then understand better how to help. Check out these guides from Anxiety UK.

By understanding what anxiety is, you’re better able to empathise and listen. You can also offer better tips if they ask you for advice.

5. Encourage them to seek help

A fun group at our Museum of Happiness exploring mindfulness

A fun group at our Museum of Happiness exploring mindfulness

If the anxiety is becoming a problem, recommend they visit their doctor, or a support group like Anxiety UK or No Panic. You could even help them to book an appointment, go along with them or explore sources of support together.

There is great power in working with a group, if they are up for it. For example, in Buddhist philosophy, this is called Sangha and a core part of the path. 

6. Look after yourself

Supporting others can be stressful. Take care of your own well being by exercising, sleeping, spending time with others, eating well and doing things that you enjoy. Meditation is always a great help if you enjoy that, too.

SHUSH! How to Listen When Someone is Anxious

Image created by and for samaritans.org

The Samaritans offer great tips when it comes to listening. They have based these tips on 60 years of expertise on listening with a volunteer force of 20,000 people.

Use these SHUSH tips

Show you care - Look at your friend in the eye and put away your phone.

Have patience - It’ll take time for your friend to share.

Use open questions - Use questions that don’t have a yes/no answer. Or simply say ‘tell me more’

Say it back - Check you’ve understood what they’ve said, without offering solutions.

Have courage - Most importantly, have the courage to be with the silence. Don’t be put off by a negative response.

Conclusion

When helping someone with anxiety, be compassionate by imagining what it was like the last time you were anxious. Listen with kindness and without judgment. And remember to look after yourself too.

By practising mindfulness (and kindfulness) yourself, you’ll have a positive impact on whoever you’re helping because of your naturally increased presence and calmness.

Your mindfulness practice will also help to renew yourself, so it’s a great way to look after yourself too.

If you don’t currently practice mindfulness, you can start by reading this mindfulness guide for beginners, or doing this free 7 day Kindfulness course.

How to be a Happy Imperfectionist

Photo: Waywuwei/Flickr

Photo: Waywuwei/Flickr

Pippa was a perfectionist.

Everything she did was neat and ordered. 

She looked pristine in every way.

Her home. Immaculate.

Her parties were organised to be just fun enough. Even her jokes and banter was planned and perfect in their delivery.

Even if she was writing a note and made an error, she’d throw away the whole sheet and start again.

Without perfection, she panicked.

She felt out of control. Lost. Scared.

One day, a teacher told her,  ‘Look at that tree. Wonky. Bent. Is it beautiful?’

‘Yes’, she admitted.

‘Is it imperfect?’

Pippa hesitated. ‘Yes’.

‘So can imperfection be beautiful?’ 

‘I suppose so’, she had to admit.

‘The imperfect tree is good enough just the way it is. And so are you. Imperfect and beautiful just the way you are.’

Pippa smiled.

‘The whole universe is both imperfect and beautiful just the way it is. And guess what? You’re not separate from the universe and her rules. You too are imperfect and beautiful.’

‘Even your desire to be perfect is part of the universe. And so is your desire to stop being a perfectionist!’

‘Behind perfectionism is control. Behind control is fear. And behind fear…a self-critical voice that you believe to be true…but it’s not. Thoughts are just thoughts. Replace your self-critical voice with a friendly, kind voice…like that of a good friend.’

‘Ask yourself daily: ‘What would a kind friend say to me right now?’

Pippa realised what was behind her compulsion to be perfect.

It was fear, combined with a harsh, self-critical voice in her head.

It was the idea ‘I’m not good enough...but I don’t want anyone to find out’

And it was just a thought. And so she could replace it with a better thought. A warm, kind friendly thought. Why not?!

Two Steps to Overcome Perfectionism

Photo: Bess Hamiti

Photo: Bess Hamiti

She was advised to begin purposefully do two things:

  1. Begin doing things imperfectly, on purpose, to challenge your habit for perfection.
  2. Begin to speak to yourself in a way a kind, friend would advise you.

So, she began intentionally turning up to meetings 10 minutes late…and said to herself ‘It’s okay. Everyone is a bit late sometimes.’

She began leaving parts of the house untidy on purpose…again using soothing language to cope with the feelings of fear that arose.

She wore a blouse that had a visible mark on it and reminded herself that others mistakenly do this too. It’s no big deal.

She went to restaurants without checking the reviews. She wrote emails with mistakes in them. 

With time, she became comfortable in her imperfections. She relaxed.

She had learnt the art of letting go, step by step.

Meditation is the art of letting go. 

Pippa had began to turn her life into a meditation.

And so can you! If you can relate to Pippa’s story, try some of the above strategies and let me know how it goes.

Four Facts about Perfectionism

Photo: Graham Crumb, Imagicity

Photo: Graham Crumb, Imagicity

Here’s my 4 facts to help remind me how to overcome perfectionism:

1. Does perfect exist? 

Has anything ever been perfect? What? Are you sure - look again. Some people may give the example of a painting...ok, it may look perfect, but to achieve that, do you think they produced imperfect pieces beforehand. Yes, big time! And is it perfect under a microscope - certainly not!

Once you think about it enough, you’ll realise that nothing is perfect.

2. Is there beauty in imperfection?

Again, yes. It’s called Wabi-sabi in Japanese - the beauty of imperfection. Look at any tree, any forest, any cloudy sky, any plant or animal. There are imperfections there that make them look incredible beautiful.

So hopefully you’ll agree. Yes, there is beauty in imperfection.

3. Are imperfect people beautiful?

All the lovable people in comedies, movies...and in real life...are loveable because of their imperfections! Their idiosyncrasies are what make them so great. So yes, there is great beauty in imperfection. Not in perfect thought, speech or action.

4. Are you beautiful in your imperfection?

So, assuming you’re not perfect, are you beautiful in your imperfection? Do you make mistakes, think stupid thoughts, feel upset easily, can’t meditate to save your life, hate yourself or something else? Is your nose too big or your legs too fat? Are you lazy or depressed or anxious or underachieving? Join the club! And we love you for your imperfections too!

Does that make you imperfect like the tree and sky, river and birds? 

YES!!!

Enjoy your imperfect day. :-) 

Conclusion

Behind perfectionism is often a harsh, self-critical voice saying you’re not good enough. You can overcome this by doing two things:

  1. Purposely doing things in an imperfect way to gently challenge yourself and bring up the fear you naturally avoid.
  2. Asking yourself in that moment: ‘What would a kind friend say to me, right now?’ And then consider acting on that advice.

Want a FREE live meditation on the beauty of imperfection this week?

Free Live Online Meditation on Friday! Join me on Facebook Live on Friday 14th June at 1pm UK time (8am Eastern Time). 

Simply go to the Shamash Alidina Facebook page and click Like and tune in at that time. If you miss it, no worries - catch the recording, if it works!

I shall be guiding an imperfect meditation called the Tree Meditation -  all about embracing imperfection for 10 minutes or so. Just a free meditation for you to enjoy - no catches, don’t worry!

Struggling to Meditate? Try the Ultimate Meditation

“I love to talk about nothing. It's the only thing I know anything about.”
Oscar Wilde

I have a confession to make.

I didn’t meditate much at all last week.

The cycle of not wanting to meditate happens to me once in awhile.

Sometimes after a few months of daily meditation, I want a little break. And sometimes after a year or so.

Anyway, I didn’t feel like forcing myself to meditate either.

What was most interesting was the change in my general outlook with less meditation.

I was definitely a bit more irritable.

The guy who worked at the local coffee shop started to annoy me a bit. The feeling of annoyance actually surprised me!

Also, I didn’t feel like going to some of the meetings booked in my diary. That’s less surprising!

I also ended up spending far more time than usual watching comedies online.

A bit of light entertainment is fine, but after a certain point, I felt worse rather than better.

But...

....something shifted on Sunday morning.

I suddenly decided, I wanted to do nothing.

Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

I sat in my room and decided: no more phone, no more computer, no more movies, no more work, no more screens.

Even no more meditating.

But a strange and lovely thing happened. As I rested, my mind naturally began to relax and let go.

At first this turned into an afternoon nap, but after that, just a calm sense of clarity and presence.

And since then I’ve returned to enjoying my morning meditations, as usual.

And this all got me thinking…

What is the ultimate form of meditation?

So I did some research and reflection...

Here’s who I consider to be amongst the best meditation or spiritual teachers in the world:

The Buddha
The Dalai Lama
Ajahn Brahm
Krishnamurti
Ramana Maharshi
Nisargadatta
Thich Nhat Hanh

They all teach many different types of meditation…

But what’s their ‘ultimate’ meditation?

I’m gonna share with you an approach to meditation that is more simple and easy that any other meditation technique.

In fact, it’s soooo simple, you probably won’t believe me when I describe it. And yet all the top meditation teachers point towards this approach.

So simple, it’s not even a technique.

Krishnamurti calls it ‘Choiceless Awareness’.

Mooji calls it the highest form of meditation, for beginners and the most advanced practitioners.

Ajahn Brahm calls it ‘The Rolls Royce of Meditation’.

Here, I’m calling it the ultimate meditation.

Here’s how it goes.

The Ultimate Meditation

  1. Do nothing.
  2. That’s it.


Is that it?

Yes!

Ok, I know that’s not easy to do.

Remember, doing nothing doesn’t mean you don’t think or feel, or move.

Here, do nothing means you can watch your mind think, your heart feel and your body shift around.

But you don’t do anything.

Essentially, you stop controlling and let life unfold.

You step back and take the role of a silent witness. A passive observer.

In some ways it’s an advanced form of meditation. But in another way, it’s the simplest, easiest and most effortless way of meditation too.

Remember - You probably spend so much of your time doing something, that you struggle to realise that doing nothing, or being, is a deep joy, pleasure and wonderful way of rejuvenating yourself. Meditation is essentially an excuse to actually just do nothing. To let go of this constant cycle doing and achieving that you may be….doing!

Here’s some more instructions, if you need it.

The Ultimate Meditation

  1. Sit or lie down. Any posture you like is fine.
  2. No need to set a timer unless you have to do something in particular.
  3. Take a few deep breaths to help relax your body.
  4. If you like, start by imaging you’ve been carrying two heavy bags - one representing the past and one, the future. Then imagine gently put both those bags down.
  5. Set your intention to simply be. No need to do anything.
  6. Notice what arises in your awareness and let the experience be.
  7. Your mind will naturally wander off, and come back. Just notice that.
  8. Let the meditation unfold in its own way. No need to do anything.
  9. No need to control your thinking. Let your mind think whatever it wants to think.
  10. The meditation will naturally come to an end when you feel like stopping.

Tip - If you’re a super busy person, it’s okay to do this for just a minute. Try it for as little or as long as you feel comfortable. No rules and no need to force anything.

Remember - You can’t do the ultimate meditation wrongly. There’s no such thing as a bad meditation. If your mind wanders a lot and you feel upset afterwards, being aware of that was your meditation. Well done, either way!

Just like there’s no bad weather. Weather is weather - sometimes it rains and sometimes it shines! We as human judge the weather as good or bad, but really it’s just weather, dependent on air pressure. The same goes for your mind in meditation. It’s all just weather, depending partly on mental pressure! Sit back and enjoy the weather.

Guided Meditation (4 minutes)

Here’s a short guided meditation on choiceless awareness. You can try this to explore what the ultimate meditation means to you.

Summary

There are many different forms of meditation taught by many different teachers.

Perhaps highest form of meditation is also the simplest: do nothing.

If you find yourself getting too frustrated by this approach, you can try the more traditional meditations like awareness of breath or the body scan meditation.

But once you get used to meditating, you will probably enjoy coming back to this simple yet profound, relaxing and blissful approach to meditation.

And if you find meditation too hard, or find yourself stuck in the rut of a particular technique, try simply doing nothing and let whatever happen, happen. You may surprise yourself at how much you enjoy it.

Mind The Gap! 9 Ways That Make Mindful Commuting Simple, Easy and Fun

mind the gap

'Mind the gap.’

I hear the announcement on yet another station on the London Underground.

Do you mind the gap?

I certainly don’t always. Not just the physical gap between the train and the platform. But the mental gap between my many thoughts.

This thought inspired me to spend my journey to Hyde Park station on a beautiful, sunny morning, to share some ideas for commuting in a mindful way.

Why? Mindful commuting is a good idea according to some scientific evidence. Commuting is one of the most unpleasant things people do in their day. And mindfulness makes the experience more pleasant...and perhaps all experiences more pleasant.

Let's see if we can brighten up that misery a bit!

Here are nine strategies you could try:

Presence

‘Being present during my smelly, tiring commute’ I hear you say?!

Yes!

You wouldn't think being present to your surroundings is a good idea while commuting. But according to THIS study, it certainly is.

People that were more present had a happier time. So notice how packed your train is. Feel your aching legs as you stand. And also smile as your train speeds through the countryside. Who knows, maybe you too will find travelling to work a strangely more enjoyable experience.

Gratitude

Travel time can be turned into gratitude time. See how many things you can think of, to be grateful for in your life. Enough money to be able to afford to commute. Enough clothes to wear. Enough for a roof over your head. Keep going! Share some in the comments so we can all feed the positive off each other.

Spot Something Unusual

dog on the tube

Look at what I spotted today!

By looking around and being more present, you notice different things going on. A cute dog, a cool outfit, a lovely smile. Certainly, without looking out for these little moments, you won’t have any chance to glimpse something unique and interesting.

And experiencing something different helps you step out of automatic pilot and live in the moment.

Journaling

I'm writing this as I travel. It's part blogging and partly a relaxing process of journaling.

Journalling has SO many benefits. If you manage to get a seat on your travel, try reflecting on you day or week, or just write a stream of consciousness.

You can write in an actual paper journal, a journal app on your phone, or just the notepad on your phone as I often don’t have a paper journal on me...I’m not as organised as you lot!

 

Meditate

One of my friends always mediates when travelling. It's just what he does. So he doesn't need to think about what to do or read or play. He sits down, and meditates. It's a lovely idea and I've spotted quite a few people doing it over the years. I enjoy meditating whilst travelling too.

Tip - you can even put your headphones on and close your eyes. Everyone will probably think you're listening to some cool music incase you're embarrassed to be meditating while travelling. And remember to practice not just mindfulness, but kindfulness.

Talk

It's good to talk to strangers! In some cities it's a bit frowned upon, but I think with time it will change. So do strike up a conversation and that'll help you get out of the usual (often boring) thoughts going around your head and into the world. Who knows - you may meet another fellow mindful fan, as I've done on several occasions.

 

Challenge

You can give yourself a little mindful challenge. Be present with your breathing from one stop to the next. Or count how many breaths you take. Spot how many things you can see that are yellow. Or purple. Or how many people look like they are in dreamland and how many are awake to the moment.

Giving yourself a challenge to be mindful is a fun way to develop mindful awareness. And if you’re travelling with children, they’ll prefer this to some of the more traditional mindfulness exercises.

 

Smile

This is a tip from a friend of mine. She makes it a game to smile at anyone who makes eye contact with her. She has a wonderful time travelling on the underground, and she does it daily, during rush hour. She tells me she find most people pleasant and chatty. I bet it’s because she plays this smile game!

 

Make Generosity a Game

My friend’s other game is to try and give up her seat rather than take a seat. She doesn’t expect to get a seat on the train. And if she does, she makes it a game to try and generously give the seat to someone who may need it more. As you can guess, this spreads smiles all round!

Here's a funny example of how not to be generous, from my favourite comedy, Seinfeld.

 

Conclusion

Whether you're travelling by bus, train, underground, taxi, plane or good old bicycle, you can make the experience a beautiful, mindful experience though one of the 9 practices: presence, gratitude, spotting something unique, journaling, meditating, talking, mindful challenge, smiling and playing the generosity game.

Do you know any other ways to make commuting more pleasant? Please do share if you do!

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