Tuesday, October 11, 2011

2011 Streak Day 264 (Saturday Sept 24th): Attention

2011 Streak Day 264 (Saturday Sept 24th):Walk 4.5 miles, Time 1hr 25min, Weather - bright and sunny but with a slightly cool breeze
Another canal photo but not as an illustration of my walk (which today was mostly in London) but to show a quality of timelessness. In black and white it is not immediately obvious how old it might be. The design of narrow boats has not changed much in over a century, and water and trees look much the same. There are no obvious signifiers of the 21st Century. However some details that show it is modern: the power gantry for the railway behind and the stretched polythene film covering the dry dock. But it is not obvious and  I like the sense of stillness.
The photo is there to represent the idea of attention as it is time to talk about my programme of mindfulness.
In some ways I see this as being similar to running. The essential requirement is consistency - finding he time each day and sticking to the schedule. Also you are not competing with any one else, you are trying to develop your own capabilities. Just like running there are frustration that you are unable to perform as well as your self-image would like and just as in running there are good, average, and bad days. But bottom line all that matters is keeping on.
However consistency is not easy. At various times in my life I have tried meditation in order to increase my awareness and always it has been a damp squib. I think I always expected too much - some vivid insight or sense of transformation; when that did not happen I drifted away.
Now however I hope to put my running experience to good use. With running I have long abandoned the hope of a startling transformation to make me fast. Nevertheless I can find a satisfaction that is hard to reconcile with the harsh statistics of how far and how fast I actually go. Through running I have learnt to keep on going through the disappointment of not being as good as I hoped I might be.
Another lesson from running is that the best way to start anything is with a schedule. If you have a timetable you have the security of knowing what you should be doing and the satisfaction of ticking things off, which are powerful inducements.
So this has been the first week of following the Mindfulness programme of Mark Williams and Danny Penman. It has been quite straightforward 8 minutes, morning and evening, of breathing.
This is probably the most common of all meditations. It involves sitting still and observing the breath - not trying to control it but just being aware of what happens when you breath. It could be the slight, tickly feeling on the top lip as the air crosses it,  it could be the way the chest or diaphragm move, or it could be any other, related sensation. All that matters is that an automatic activity, which goes on every minute of every day that you live,  ceases to be invisible and becomes the focus of attention.
It is impossible to concentrate completely on the breath and only on the breath. Thoughts will always bubble up. But the idea is to be aware of that and not indulge them. Just tell them that you will think about them later as you escort them from the premises.
I am patchy at doing this as my problems are twofold the first is that it is not natural for me to leave thoughts alone, the second is part of by mind always watches what I do and makes judgements. The power of both of these habits somehow has to be lessened.
This is why the lessons from running can be useful. They have taught me that you cannot set impossible targets (i.e. expecting lifelong mindsets to suddenly change) but you can improve by sticking at it.
My plan is thus to do this for at least eight weeks but it might take longer. If I don't think one of the weeks has gone well enough then I will repeat it. My aim is to feel satisfied with each week.
So far this week has been good.

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