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Coming up – Amber and Vajragupta

Our Zoom class has moved to Tuesday nights – 7.30pm

Amber is leading it 31st March

and Vajragupta has very kindly agreed to lead our zoom class on 7th April.

Everyone welcome including beginners. You do not have to “be a Buddhist” or to know anything about meditation.

An evening of meditation, talk and discussion.

He has written many books, and his visited our Hertford group twice (in real life!)

We actually studied his book “Buddhism: Tools for Living your Life” together for about a year. Like all his books it has a lot of depth and is very easy to read for a beginner. It is highly recommended if you would like to find out more about Buddhism.

His warmth and open heartedness shine through his words. It feels like reading a letter from a close friend.

He has recently become the chair of Croydon Buddhist Centre and you can see some of his recent Facebook lives at https://www.facebook.com/Croydon-Buddhist-Centre-144567908902949/ .

Register for this meeting by clicking:
https://zoom.us/meeting/register/u5Iuc–pqjIpPaCyNk0DFt7eq5fZh94cHA

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. It has a link in it near the bottom saying “Click here to join”. You need to click that link at the start time.

I think if you already registered in previous weeks you will not need to do so again as you will already be registered and you can use the same link. But if you have lost your link or email, just register again (as many times as you like!) with the same email address and you will go to a page with the join link.

It is actually a lot simpler that it sounds!

See you on zoom!

Keith

See you tonight! and more info about our online meetings.

Hi everyone,

Just a reminder that we are having an online meeting tonight at 7.30pm for about a couple of hours. Already 77 people have registered for this.

I am very happy that my good friend Danapriya has kindly agreed to lead it.

He set up the East Kent Buddhist Group in Deal around the same time as Rob and Helen set up the Hertford Buddhist Group (about 11 years ago). Right from the start the Deal group was a massive success and has lots of homegrown order members etc.

I first met him about 10 years at Padmaloka and I realised he could help us, so I put him in touch with Rob and he emailed a lot of great ideas to us. Later on at retreats at Adhisthana he gave a talk on how to make your Buddhist group thrive, and I got a lot more good ideas from him which have helped us make the Hertford group what it is today.

Also he is a close friend of Khemananda’s who many of you know well, and it was actually Khemananda who told Danapriya what we were doing with our zoom meetings.

I have been inviting Danapriya for years to come to Hertford, but the drive from Deal was a bit too far. Fortunately zoom makes it very easy.

He has also written a book which will be published in the summer: “It’s Not Out There: How to see differently and live an extraordinary, ordinary life “. More info is on his website http://www.danapriya.org/ .

The evening will be useful for him too, as he wants to get more confidence using zoom to conduct meetings, so I said he could use us as guinea pigs!

It will be a great evening. Not to be missed!

If you have not registered for it then just go to https://zoom.us/meeting/register/u5Iuc–pqjIpPaCyNk0DFt7eq5fZh94cHA . You just need to click the words “Click here to join” in the page that follows before 7.30 tonight.

If you have registered for the last one, that will count for all future sessions (well at least for the next few months), and you do not need to register again. You just click the same “Click here to join” link. But if you have lost that email, just register again at the link above using the same email address.

It works on smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop (if it has microphone and webcam). But it is much better if you use a laptop or desktop as you can do text chat more easily etc.

This week the meeting is on Monday. From next week onwards we are moving to Tuesdays.

I am really looking forward to having you join this online community. Although many of us are based in Hertford at the moment, I want to reach out and include anyone in the world who would like to be part of this. Also, you do not have to “be a Buddhist”. Newcomers are always welcome.

You are also very welcome to join our thriving and friendly Facebook group if you like: https://www.facebook.com/groups/205398687230606/ . Please comment on there about your life, your situation, and also about these meetings.

Or if you don’t like Facebook, then you can look at our blog https://hertfordbuddhistgroup.co.uk/blog/

I am also starting a youtube channel that will show previous talks. It already has Mangala’s on there. Please subscribe https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-ipkuj4lRtRHdT0CLbQ2Cg . Once we get to 100 subscribers I am able to change the name to something a bit more user friendly.

Some meetings will be more focussed on meditation, others on Buddhism. Some will have a lot of talking by the leader, whereas others will have more interaction and discussion.

I like to mix things up a bit to get a bit of variety.

One advantage of all this is that it makes it very easy for people to join us. I will try and find some more great leaders in the weeks to come.

Hopefully you and your loved ones are staying safe and well in this time.

See you online!

Keith

All classes cancelled with immediate effect due to the coronavirus. Join us online instead!

Hi everybody,

There is new official Government advice given today on the BBC news webpage: ‘Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said everyone in the UK should now avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others and to fight coronavirus. He said people should work from home and avoid pubs, club, theatres where possible, as part of a range of stringent new measures.’

We will of course follow that advice and close down the Tuesday class at the Millbridge Rooms with immediate effect. No class tomorrow or in the foreseeable future.

Of course we are hoping to restart things back up again as soon as the situation improves.

In the mean time, please stay connected with the sangha online as much as you can.

Our new Facebook group already has 49 members: https://www.facebook.com/groups/205398687230606

And we have a zoom meeting tonight at 7.30pm and weekly thereafter. You have to register for it in advance at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/u5Iuc–pqjIpPaCyNk0DFt7eq5fZh94cHA . You can download the free software (which gives a better experience), or you can do it through a browser. But you will need a mic and camera. So either a desktop with these, or a laptop, tablet or phone.

Tonight Mangala will be talking about the coronavirus and Buddhist practice. And it will be followed by an optional group chat. You can log off when you like.

It will be tonight and next Monday (23rd), then it will move to Tuesday nights as from Tuesday the 31st March.

with much metta

Keith

(and on behalf of Leah, Rob, Helen, and all our spiritual friends and advisors)

p.s. Amber is also cancelling her yoga class with immediate effect. No class tomorrow.

Coming up in March, April and May

Hi everybody,

By the way the photo is from Jnanavaca’s recent visit.

1) Coming up at the Hertford Buddhist Group:

10/3 – Padmajata
17/3 – Mangala and Keith
24/3 – Amber
31/3 – not yet known
7/4 – Padmajata
and then on 12/5 – Maitreyabandhu (author of the meditation course we do sometimes and several books including “Life with Full Attention”)

2) There is a “What is a mitra” day at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre on Sunday the 19th April, so if you would like to know more about what this means, please book up details on their website – https://www.cambridgebuddhistcentre.com/event/5567/what-mitra . There is a link to events at the top of the page.

You can also download and read a pdf about being a mitra on the hertfordbuddhistgroup website downloads page. It is also available as a hard copy that we distribute sometimes on Tuesday evenings.

Becoming a mitra (it means “friend”) is the next logical step if you have been coming for 6 months or more and want to deepen your practice and/or connection with the sangha. I would highly recommend it.

3) Also you might be interested in a joint retreat of the Hertford and Letchworth sanghas. May 15th to May 17th in Newmarket led by Padmajata and Yashodaka. The Old Stable House Retreat Centre, Newmarket. Theme : Who is the Buddha? On the retreat we will be exploring various dimensions of the Buddha – historical, archetypal/mythic and mysterious, through meditation, ritual, discussion, and being a Sangha together.

To come on the retreat you should be familiar with both meditation practices (mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana), and be open to participating in Buddhist ritual.

Price £100 full rate (reduced rates are available)

To book or for more info email triratnaletchworth@yahoo.co.uk

4) Judging by the top stories on the BBC news website, I am sure many of us are concerned about the covid 19 coronavirus, so I wanted to say a few words about that. Also two of my friends have been told to work from home this week because of it, so things seem to be coming closer to home. Many of us alternate between denial, trying to shove it under the carpet, laugh it off and the opposite extreme of panic and paranoia.

The best strategy I believe is to keep a level head and take sensible precautions. Personally I am carrying on pretty much as usual, but trying to implement good hygiene habits now – things like washing my hands more, and keeping a bit more social distance (stopping handshakes, hugs, kissing etc). At some point the virus will come to Hertford, so it is prudent to have good habits already in place to reduce the chance of giving or receiving this thing.

From a Buddhist point of view, it is a reminder that if we are too attached to everything just being totally safe, secure and lasting for ever, then we are just going to cause ourselves more suffering. Existence is just not like that.

So it is better to take sensible precautions, carry on with our practices, live in the moment, let go, and accept and embrace things that we have no control over.

Hopefully our Hertford Buddhist Group will remain a sanctuary of sanity, community and joy.

As the Buddha said so beautifully in chapter 15 of the Dharmapada:

Happy indeed we live who are free from hatred among those who still hate. In the midst of hate-filled men, we live free from hatred.

Happy indeed we live who are free from disease among those still diseased. In the midst of diseased men, we live free from disease.

Happy indeed we live who are free from worry among those who are still worried. In the midst of worried men, we live free from worry.

Happy indeed we live who have nothing of our own. We shall feed on joy, just like the radiant devas (gods).

or in another translation:

Blessed indeed are we who live among those who hate, hating no one; amidst those who hate, let us dwell without hatred

Blessed indeed are we who live among those who are ailing, without ailments; amidst those who are so afflicted, let us live in good health.

Blessed indeed are we who live among those who are yearning for sense delights, without yearning for such things; amidst those who are yearning for sense delights, let us dwell without yearning.

Happy indeed are we who live without possessions. Let us feed on happiness, like the radiant gods (who feed on spiritual bliss).

See you soon hopefully

Keith

Happy New Year

Hi there,

Another decade has come and gone.

I hope that you had a nice relaxing time over Christmas, and are ready to embrace another year.

We all know that New Year resolutions tend to get forgotten about after a few days back in the “real world”. But even so, this time of year it is sometimes very useful to take a step back and think about what we are doing with our lives.

Are we doing things that we know will help make us better people, and this world a better place?
Do we want to have more meaning and freedom in our lives?
Do we have really good friends who support us, are a pleasure to be around, and who bring out the best in us?
Are we truly satisfied and joyful a lot of the time?
Or are we just biding our time on a lonely semi conscious hamster wheel of alternating stressful work and indulgence, just putting up with things till our next holiday?

However you answered those questions, maybe it is a good time to come along to Hertford Buddhist Group. We have some really good things coming up. Newcomers, beginners, meditators, Buddhists and non-Buddhists are all welcome.

7th Jan: Jnanavaca is visiting us for the first time to lead the class. He was chair of the London Buddhist Centre for about ten years, and is now the president of Cambridge Buddhist Centre.

14th Jan: We start a Mindfulness and Meditation course over 8 Tuesday evenings. You will need to buy the book “Life with Full Attention” by Maitreyabandhu, which is available at Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Full-Attention-Practical-Mindfulness/dp/1899579982 and other book shops. More info at https://hertfordbuddhistgroup.co.uk/mindfulness-and-meditation-8-week-course-beginners-welcome/ . Week 1 will be led by Leah and Keith
21st Jan: Week 2 led by Keith and Leah
28th Jan: Week 3 led by Khemananda
Following weeks led by Padmajata, Mangala and Amber.

Hopefully you can make it to some or all of these 🙂

On another subject, I am very happy that my good friend Leah has been invited to go on a three month retreat in Spain starting in April. During this retreat she will be ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order.

She will be our first “home grown” order member at Hertford, and it will have a very positive and deepening effect on our group.

She has created a page https://www.gofundme.com/f/ordination-at-akashavana with more information, and where people are able to give money to help fund her retreat if they wish to.

All the best

Keith
http://hertfordbuddhistgroup.co.uk

p.s. Here is an excerpt from Vajragupta’s book “Buddhism: Tools for living your life”, which we recommend to people new to Buddhism (as well as more experienced people)


Bare awareness and continuity of purpose

In order to explore further how we might develop mindfulness in daily life, we’re going to look in a little more detail at two dimensions of awareness drawn out in the texts from the early Buddhist tradition.9 First, sati, a Pali word which could be translated as ‘bare awareness’. Secondly, sampajanna, or ‘continuity of purpose’.

Bare awareness is that simple state of being collected, rather then semi-absent. You are more fully present in your experience. Your body, senses, heart, and mind are alive and receptive. You feel as though your feet are firmly on the ground – earthed and connected.

Some people can remember a moment in their childhood when they first became self-aware. I can remember one very ordinary day when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I was in the bathroom washing my hands and I can clearly recall the sandy orange of the walls, the white ceramic sink gleaming under the electric light, turning the soap in my hands, and holding my hands under the running water.

Suddenly, there was this strange sense of excitement and wonder that this was happening to me right now, right there. Perhaps bare awareness has something of the freshness and immediacy of that experience. We are aware, and aware of being aware. Perhaps you can recall other times or places in your life when your awareness has felt heightened in this way.

When we dwell in this kind of bare awareness, we become more attuned to things. Our awareness becomes more refined, subtle, and sensitive. We notice small changes and more detail. We look more, so we see more. Only those who know how to ‘stop and stare’ will notice the primroses nestling in the hedgerow, catch sight of a sparrowhawk as it hurtles through the trees, or enjoy the sodium orange of the streetlamp splashing and sparkling on wet tarmac on a winter’s night.

© Windhorse Publications

Mindfulness and Meditation 8 week course – beginners welcome

You are warmly invited to come to a eight week (ie 8 Tuesday evenings) course for anyone wanting to learn how to meditate and live their lives more mindfully.

All are welcome including total beginners, people who know nothing about meditation or mindfulness, as well as seasoned meditators.

The mindfulness section of the course is based on the excellent book “Life with Full Attention” by Maitreyabandhu, and you would need to buy that (eg https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Full-Attention-Practical-Mindfulness/dp/1899579982/ref=sr_1_1? ). The cost is £11.99.

There is no charge for the course itself. But we do invite people to make a donation towards our costs, so that we can carry on with what we do. Your donation could be any amount, but the suggested amount is £5 per evening.

Many people have found these courses extremely useful and have made massive shifts in their life from them (if they carry on practising and attending after the course).

People report these shifts especially in areas such as more happiness, less anxiety and less negative emotions. The general goal is to be more content, more mindful, have more loving kindness, joy, connection and ultimately more freedom from our reactive mind.

Repetition is important because there are different levels of depth, experience and understanding. If you have been before you will build on what you have learned and be able to go a bit deeper this time, so it is also suitable for experienced meditators.

If you want more information about the styles of meditation we teach you can go to http://hertfordbuddhistgroup.co.uk/meditation/ where there are also links to downloadable mp3s that can guide you while you meditate, as well as youtube videos etc.

It’s fine if you can’t manage to come to every week, each one can be enjoyed independently so just come along and drop into any that you can make. Although like anything, the more you put into it, and the more you attend, the more you will get out of it.

The classes will be very friendly, welcoming and a lot of fun. There will be a tea and biscuit break halfway through, so there will be a lot of opportunity to make new friends, and to catch up with old ones.

The course is held at our usual venue of the Millbridge Rooms (opposite Hertford Theatre). See the link below for a screenshot of our front door, and recommended car parks:

8 Tuesday evenings starting 14th January 2020 .

It is best to get there between 7.00 pm and 7.15pm, as we start shortly after that. Each class will finish at 9.45pm.

There is no need to bring anything apart from an open mind and willingness to explore your experience. We have lots of chairs and some cushions. However if you want to bring any cushions, mats, stools etc from home you are very welcome.

If you cannot come to this course, you can also come any Tuesday throughout the year as we always warmly welcome any newcomers and beginners, and give full instruction. Every Tuesday evening is run as a drop in class.

If you have any questions, please leave a message below, or alternatively direct message me on Facebook .

Hope to see you at the course 🙂

Keith

Coming up in December and January

Hi everyone,

These are some photos taken at Sangha Day at Cambridge Buddhist Centre a couple of weeks ago. They show our new mitras with the rest of our sangha who had gone to Cambridge to support them, and also by themselves.

We have three more Tuesday night classes before we take take a couple of weeks break. There is no class on the 24th Dec or 31st Dec.

If you want to do some meditation over this period, then consider the London Buddhist Centre. They have classes most days and they also have day retreats on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – https://www.lbc.org.uk/event-details/-1312 .

We will start next year with a visit by Jnanavaca followed by the start of an 8 week practical mindfulness course based on the book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Full-Attention-Practical-Mindfulness/dp/1899579982

As always newcomers and total beginners are always welcome, and everything is free of charge (although you are invited to leave a donation if you would like to).

This is what is coming up in our last 3 classes of the year and also next year:

03 December 2019 Khemananda
10 December 2019 Leah
17 December 2019 Keith and talks by 3 people on why they became a mitra
24 December 2019 no class
31 December 2019 no class
07 January 2020 Jnanavaca (ex chair of London Buddhist Centre and President of Cambridge Buddhist Centre)
14 January 2020 8 Week Mindfulness Course starts “Life with Full Attention”

Also, here are the festival dates for the Cambridge Buddhist Centre for 2020, so get these into your diaries now if you enjoy going to festivals:

Parinirvana day 16 Feb
Buddha day 3rd May
Dharma day.12th July 
Padmasambhava day 27th Sept.
Sangha day 29th Nov

Just in case you are interested, I also wanted to mention that Maitreyabandhu (who wrote the book on mindfulness mentioned above) also organises poetry evenings at the London Buddhist Centre – https://www.facebook.com/PoetryEastLondon/ https://www.meetup.com/Poetry-East/ . The next event is on December 7th with Kei Miller.

That is all for now.

I hope you have a lovely Christmas and New Year.

All the best

Keith
http://hertfordbuddhistgroup.co.uk

p.s. Here is an excerpt from Vajragupta’s book “Buddhism: Tools for living your life”, which we recommend to people new to Buddhism (as well as more experienced people)


Mindfulness in daily life

When we start to notice how our meditation is affected by the thoughts and concerns of our everyday activity, we are led to an important realization. Mindfulness is a quality that we need to practise all the time, from moment to moment.

There is a two-way relationship at work here.

First, the mindfulness we cultivate in our meditation will permeate our daily lives. After we’ve been meditating for a while we may well notice that we are a bit calmer and more aware as we go about our everyday business. The spaciousness of meditation flavours the rest of our experience.

Secondly, the mindfulness we cultivate from day to day makes our meditation practice more fruitful. If mindfulness is about knowing ourselves better, then we need to attend to what happens in every moment. In meditation we can watch the mind directly, but there is just as much to be learned about ourselves through our daily experience. The way to see ourselves really clearly is often through our interactions with others. Away from it all, in the quiet of our meditation, it might be easy to kid ourselves, but in the thick of daily life, with demands and pressures on us, we can see what our real strengths and weaknesses are. This creates the raw material for our meditation.
exercise – mindfulness moments

Practising mindfulness in everyday life is not easy – there can besom much information to process, so much to distract us. But there are techniques we can use to help us.8

For example, we may use something as a cue to re-establish mindfulness. Every time the phone rings, or each time we make a cup of tea, we try to remember to come back to ourselves. We can just stop and breathe deeply a few times, and then continue with what we were doing, but with renewed attentiveness and presence.

Or we might make sure there are at least a few short, but empty, spaces in our day when we can recollect ourselves.

Choose one such method and try it for a week.

What do you notice about your quality of mind in those spaces of awareness? Does the effect of ‘mindfulness moments’ spill out into the rest of your day? Do you find it easy to remember to be mindful, or difficult?

© Windhorse Publications

Coming up at Hertford Buddhist Group in November

The photo is from our retreat in September in Newmarket.
Hi everyone,

We have finally finished our 6 week course. We will have another course starting in January, but we have not nailed down all the details yet.

But don’t wait till then. Coming along to our drop in class is actually the perfect way to spend a cold November Tuesday evening! Newcomers and beginners are always welcome. Full meditation instruction is always given.

Coming up we have:
5th November: Jayaka (male mitra convenor of the London Buddhist Centre)
12th November: Mangala and Keith
19th November: Akashamitra (leads the London Buddhist Centre Monday night class sometimes)
26th November: Not yet decided
3rd December: Khemananda
10th December: Leah
17th December: Not yet decided
24th December: No class
31st December: No class
7th January: Jnanavaca (ex chair of London Buddhist Centre, and president of Cambridge Buddhist Centre)

I hope you can make all or some of these. See you there!

Keith

p.s. Also, don’t forget our drop in yoga class lead by Amber. Every Tuesday up till and including December 3rd, then it will start again in January.

Yoga for the Sangha is every Tuesday from 6 pm to 7 pm at:

The Quaker Meeting House,
50 Railway Street,
Hertford
SG14 1BA.

All levels are welcome
£5 per session
Contact Amber 0794 261 2117 for more information

You will need to bring your own yoga mat.

The timing of this course is designed so that you have time to walk up to the Millbridge rooms to come to our Tuesday Sangha night class afterwards if you would like to do both!

p.p.s. Here is an excerpt from Vajragupta’s book “Buddhism: Tools for living your life”, which we recommend to people new to Buddhism (as well as more experienced people)

But cultivating mindfulness also takes time. Sometimes, when teaching meditation, I’ve asked people why they want to learn. A common reply is, ‘I just want to be able to switch off.’ I have to disappoint them. Our minds are not computers. We cannot just click on an icon, or flick a switch, to quell the activity of the mind. In the previous chapter we saw how what we are is the product of all our previous thoughts, words, and acts. This is true on many levels: on the macro-level, when we look back at our whole life and see the kind of person we have become, but also on a micro-, or day-to-day, level. The thoughts and images that may be swirling round our heads right now are the product of what we’ve been thinking, saying, and doing this very day. There is no magical technique to just stop all this; we have to sit with the mind, letting that karma-vipaka (see p.14) gradually play itself out.

There is a lovely traditional image for this. Imagine your mind is like a glass vessel of water. Perhaps the water is muddy and unclear, with various bits and pieces swimming about in it. Meditation is sitting quietly and still so that the sediment gradually starts to settle. It takes time, but after a while the water becomes crystal clear and still. This process cannot be hurried. Anything you do to the water to try to make it clear will actually stir it up again.

Since meditation works gradually, consistency of practice over time is also very important. Meditating every day for a short period, or at least most days in a week, is much better that a long meditation only once or twice a week. You can also experiment to see what works best for you: meditating first thing in the day, or at another time? Is meditating for about twenty minutes right for you, or could you usefully go a bit longer?
exercise – daily meditation practice

You might find the following helpful in encouraging you to establish a daily meditation. Try to meditate once a day, or as many days as you can manage, for the next two weeks. It doesn’t have to be a long meditation. If you miss a day, don’t give up, but get back to it as soon as you can. It is often recommended that we alternate the mindfulness of breathing that we explored above with the loving-kindness meditation described in the next chapter. But for now, if you’ve only learned one meditation, just do that one every day.

Perhaps you could even keep a meditation journal for these two weeks, briefly recording at the end of each session what happened, and anything you learned or noticed that you want to remember and take forward to the next meditation.

After two weeks, ask whether you notice any difference in yourself. You might be surprised at what you find. You could even ask your friends if they notice any difference. Other people sometimes notice more quickly than we do!

Daily practice allows the meditation to have a cumulative effect. Establishing a daily practice is a significant stage in making meditation a central part of our lives. We try to develop a positive habit in which we meditate every day when our practice is going well, but also keeping going when it seems harder.

© Windhorse Publications

Meditation and Buddhism Course plus New Yoga Class in Hertford

Hi there,

I am pleased to report that lots of things are going on at Hertford. The photo is from Vajragupta’s recent visit.

We have just started an introductory six week course on meditation and Buddhism last week. But (even if you are a complete beginner) it does not matter if you have missed any, just drop in to any of the evenings that you would like to.

Also Amber has started teaching yoga every Tuesday 6pm to 7pm at the Quaker Meeting House, 50 Railway Street, Hertford. SG14 1BA. All levels are welcome. £5 per session. Contact Amber 0794 261 2117. You will need to bring your own yoga mat. The timing of this course is designed so that you have time to walk up to the Millbridge rooms to come to our Tuesday night class afterwards if you want to. But you don’t have to. You can just do one or the other, both or neither.

And at our Tuesday class:-

1/10 Keith and Amber
8/10 Mangala and Keith
15/10 Leah and Keith
22/10 Khemananda

I look forward to seeing you at some of these if you can make it.

All the best

Keith

p.s. Vajragupta came a couple of weeks ago to talk about themes from his latest book “Free Time”. It was a great evening. 41 people came and he sold and wrote personal messages in lots of books.

He goes to lots of Buddhist groups, but he told me that he thought our one was particularly “friendly” and “lively”.

Here is an excerpt from his book “Buddhism: Tools for living your life”, which we recommend to people new to Buddhism.


There is another meditation method that can be helpful in learning this ability to sit in awareness.
exercise – just sitting

In this exercise we sit quietly and comfortably as in the first meditation, but this time we are not going to focus on anything in particular.

We just watch the play of our minds. We try to notice any thoughts, sensations, or feelings as they come into the mind. If we have a thought about a meeting we have to attend tomorrow, we simply watch the thought as it comes and goes. If there is an itch in our left leg, we feel the itch and it fades away. If we hear neighbour shouting, we simply hear the sound come and go. If we notice irritation arising, we feel the irritation and let it go.

We try this for maybe five minutes and then relax for a few moments. Afterwards we can reflect on what happened. Was it easy, or was it difficult? Were we surprised by the activity of the mind?

Sitting in this way, you might notice how your mind has an inexhaustible tendency to reach out, and either want to grasp or to repel the experiences it finds out there. But in this exercise we are attempting to rest the mind in simple mindfulness: relaxing, rather than grasping or repelling. This type of meditation is sometimes called the just sitting practice, but we need to be careful that we are not just drifting! We do not want to lose ourselves in the play of the mind, but remain fully aware. This is not always easy and may require a lot of practice.

Through meditation, we come to know our minds more fully, and we might be surprised by what we discover. Sometimes the sheer volume of thoughts rushing round in our head is shocking. We may discover anger and irritation that has not been fully acknowledged, emotions that have been gnawing away at our hearts without our realizing. There are happier discoveries too; we free up more expansive emotion and energy, and may experience new levels of clarity and calm. We can gradually come to learn about the deeper and subtler workings of the mind, and there is always more to discover.

Cultivating this mindfulness also gives us distance from which we can see the overall pattern of our lives. It allows us to untangle ourselves from the daily worries, irritations, and concerns and create a space around them. In this space we can know ourselves more clearly and see what is really going on and what is truly important to us. Our habits and tendencies become more apparent. If they are unhelpful habits this means we can now change them. So mindfulness is the first crucial step to our inner freedom, to becoming more fully the ‘author’ of our own story.

© Windhorse Publications