Learn to love life’s little pleasures

Take time to notice the details in your everyday routines and discover the pleasures you miss when you’re in a rush or when your mind is elsewhere.

The scent of my underarm deodorant reached my nose. I had rolled it on after the shower without thinking too much about it, just routine.

Will Wiles. The Way Inn.

Learn to love life's little pleaures
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Each day, I invite you to practise mindfulness of at least two pleasurable experiences. If you’re having a shower, use all five senses to engage in it: notice the patterns of the droplets on the shower screen, the sensations of the water on your skin, the smell of the shampoo and soap, and the sound of the spray coming out of the nozzle.

When you’re eating dinner, pause for a moment before your first bite, and notice the different aromas of the various ingredients, and the colours, shapes and textures of the different foods. Then, as you cut up the food, notice the sounds made by your cutlery and the movements of your hands and arms and shoulders. And as you eat that first mouthful, notice the tastes and textures in your mouth, as if you were a gourmet food critic who has never tasted a meal like this before.

If you’re hugging someone you love, notice the sensations in your body, and the way you position yourself, and what you do with your arms, and the reactions in the face and body of your loved one.

Russ Harris. The Confidence Gap

How to catch the carrot

Pause for a while, be patient and mindful, and let go of your desires, and you just might find the very thing you have been looking for all along.

‘Perhaps man was neither good nor bad, was only a machine in an insensate universe – his courage no more than a reflex to danger, like the automatic jump at the pin-prick. Perhaps there were no virtues, unless jumping at pin-pricks was a virtue, and humanity only a mechanical donkey led on by the iron carrot of love, through the pointless treadmill of reproduction.’

T.H. White. The Once and Future King.

How to catch the carrot
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Buddhist donkeys know how to get that carrot! They run like hell after that carrot, putting maximum effort (viriya) and concentration (samādhi) into moving that cart as fast as they can. Of course, the carrot moves just as fast, always remaining a couple feet in front of the donkey’s mouth. At this point, the Buddhist donkey lets go of desire. They suddenly stop! Because of momentum, the carrot swings even further from the donkey, arcing up further than it has ever been before. But this donkey has faith (saddhā) and wisdom (paññā) and so waits patiently with mindfulness (sati), since effort and concentration have done their work. Patiently observing, the donkey sees the carrot swing away to the extreme, and then sees it begin to swing back again. “Rising and falling,” notes the donkey. Soon the carrot has fallen back to its usual position but, oddly, it is now traveling toward the donkey and at some speed. Practicing patience, the donkey does nothing. It is the carrot that does all the work as it comes closer and closer. At the right moment, the donkey simply opens its mouth and the big juicy carrot comes in all by itself. Crunch! Munch! Mmm! That tastes sweet! This is how donkeys who know the Dhamma catch the carrot.

Ajahn Brahm. Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond.

The mystery of mankind

We all use labels to describe who we are – a mother; baker; blonde; lazy – but such narrow definitions limit who we really are and who we can be.

‘Science has dispelled many traditional myths so that we no longer believe them. There are, however, still many mysteries to be solved, especially those that are within us all
Man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
The mystery of mankind
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As a child, you saw things afresh, but as you grew up, things became familiar and no longer exciting. A rainbow doesn’t get you jumping for joy, washing the dishes isn’t a fun task and you ignore a plane flying past. Mindfulness encourages you to reinvigorate the miracle of being alive and see things with a beginner’s mind. The fact that you’re alive is a huge mystery itself. By being mindful, you can begin to live in this exciting way, as if everything is miraculous.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Plan for now

You can spend a lot of time planning for next week, next year or even your retirement, hoping things will be better then, never realising how good life is right now.

Twenty five years working for the state
Saved all your money, got a good rate
Always thinking ’bout that pension plan
The day of retirement, the promised land, well

The day of retirement has finally come
Get a gold watch and your work is done
One month later your heart gave out
What was all that planning about?

Well, they finally lay you in the ground
Your wife and the children standing around
Now they got that pension plan
Rather have you, don’t you know it, man

What a way to go
What a way to go

Seasick Steve. What a way to go on the album You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.

This can be a real wake-up call. If like many people you find yourself constantly planning for a future but never really enjoying the present moment, perhaps you can try the practice of savouring the now. This practice is essentially mindful, but with a slight twist – the idea is to tune into the pleasantness of an experience in the moment. Savouring present-moment experiences is one of the core hallmarks of leading a life of wellbeing, and so it’s worth having a go.

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

We’re all searching for something

Each of us is searching for something different, something to make our lives better, more complete. What we forget is that we’re all the same, we’re all searching.

‘In his life-form the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man. He is limited either as male or as female; at any given period of his life he is again limited as child, youth, mature adult, or ancient; furthermore, in his liferole he is necessarily specialized as craftsman, tradesman, servant, or thief, priest, leader, wife, nun, or harlot; he cannot be all. Hence, the totality—the fullness of man—is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole; the individual can be only an organ. From his group he has derived his techniques of life, the language in which he thinks, the ideas on which he thrives; through the past of that society descended the genes that built his body. If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the sources of his existence.’
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
We are all searching for something
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The individual is always a seeker. A separate person is always looking for something. We might seek wealth, success, power, fame, or we might seek for ‘spiritual’ things instead – but really it’s all the same seeking.

It seems as though everyone is looking for different things, but actually what we are looking for, deep down, is the same. Basically, everyone is in pursuit of the same wholeness (or oneness, or completeness, or whatever you want to call it) – a wholeness that is already here, but is ignored in our pursuit of a future completion.’

Jeff Foster. What Is Non-Duality? An interview with Jeff Foster by Nic Higham of Nonduality Network

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Cultivate your curiosity

Writers use curiosity to hook you into their story, to make you ask questions and wonder. You can use that same curiosity in life, to learn and to become more aware of the world around you.

‘Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations. Each Turning Point hooks curiosity. As the protagonist is put at increasingly greater risk, the audience wonders, “What’s going to happen next? And after that?” And above all, “How will it turn out?” The answer to this will not arrive until the last act Climax, and so the audience, held by curiosity, stays put. Think of all the bad films you’ve sat through for no other reason than to get the answer to that nagging question.’

Robert McKee. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

Writers use curiosity to hook you into their story, to make you ask questions and wonder. You can use that same curiosity in life, to learn and to become more aware of the world around you.
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Curiosity is at the heart of any learning process. If you’re curious about something, you want to find out more about it. When you feel curious, you ask lots of questions, listen intently and get excited by new information and new concepts.

You can bring an attitude of this curiosity to your mindfulness practice. Ask yourself questions like ‘Where do thoughts come from?’ and ‘What happens if I move towards my frustration and try to breathe into it?’

If you bring curiosity to your daily life, you find that mindfulness spontaneously arises. You’re paying attention, noticing what’s happening and find it easier to be in the present moment.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

How to tolerate extremes

Whether you’re experiencing a winter freeze or a summer burn, there’s little point in complaining. Try to experience any extreme with open curiosity, and you might find you can tolerate a lot more than you thought.

‘Suddenly it’s cauld; very fuckin cauld. The candle’s nearly melted doon. The only real heat’s comin fae the telly. Something black and white’s on but the telly’s a black and white set so it was bound tae be something black and white . . . wi a calour telly, it wid be different . . perhaps. It’s freezing, but movement only makes ye caulder; by making ye more aware that there’s fuck all you can do, fuck all you can really do, tae get warm. At least if ah stey still ah can pretend to masel ah have the power tae make masel warm, by just moving aroond or switching the fire oan. The trick is tae be as still as possible. It’s easier than dragging yourself across the flair tae switch that fuckin fire oan.’

Irvine Welsh. Trainspotting.

How to tolerate extremes
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A woman came to me during a retreat saying that despite extra layers of clothing and a hot-water bottle, she felt cold all the time. She also realized that she was frightened about feeling cold. She knew the fear was irrational, and she had been looking for its source. Then she remembered an incident twenty years earlier when she’d had some heart trouble and was very cold.

I asked her to scan her body carefully and tell me what percentage of the body did not feel cold. After a few minutes she reported with surprise that over 90 percent of her body felt warm, or even hot. She realized that the 10 percent of her body that was cool was producing 100 percent of the fear. Later she said that a weight had been lifted from her mind, a fear that had lasted decades, and she was now able easily to tolerate different temperatures.

I once watched a passenger get into my car and reach over to turn on the air conditioner, before the car had even started. It’s like salting our food before we taste it. We live on automatic, trying to insulate ourselves against any discomfort before it even arrives. Then we lose the joy of potential discovery and the freedom of finding that we can investigate, and even be happy, within a greater range of experiences than we thought.

Jan Chozen Bays. How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness.

Trust your own strength

Mythological heroes often possess extraordinary powers. That ability and strength to overcome apparently insurmountable problems is within us all.

‘The mighty hero of extraordinary powers —able to lift Mount Govardhan on a finger, and to fill himself with the terrible glory of the universe—is each of us: not the physical self visible in the mirror, but the king within. Krishna declares: “I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.””
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Trust your own strength
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Part of mindfulness practice is to cultivate a trusting heart. Let’s begin by looking deeply into what we can trust in ourselves. If we don’t immediately know what there is to trust in ourselves, maybe we need to look a little deeper, to dwell a little longer with ourselves in stillness and in simply being. If we are unaware of what we are doing a good deal of the time, and we don’t particularly like the way things turn out in our lives, perhaps it’s time to pay closer attention, to be more in touch, to observe the choices we make and their consequences down the road.

Perhaps we could experiment with trusting the present moment, accepting whatever we feel or think or see in this moment because this is what is present now. If we can take a stand here, and let go into the full texture of now, we may find that this very moment is worthy of our trust. From such experiments, conducted over and over again, may come a new sense that somewhere deep within us resides a profoundly healthy and trustworthy core, and that our intuitions, as deep resonances of the actuality of the present moment, are worthy of our trust.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body; there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully! Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which you are.

Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Why we need free speech

Even grumpy old Charles Bukowski couldn’t get angry at those who attacked free speech. Through mindfulness, we can learn to broaden our understanding and see that there are many ‘truths’.

Why we need free speech
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‘Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.’

Charles Bukowski. Letter to journalist, Hans van den Broek after the book Tales of Ordinary Madness was removed from the public library in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. 1985. Source: Letters of Note. Available from: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/10/charles-bukowski-on-censorship.html [accessed on 11 January 2014].

‘Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly, a seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven, that nothing is separate or extraneous. If you see in this way, then everything becomes spiritual in its deepest sense. Doing science is spiritual. So is washing the dishes. It is the inner experience which counts. And you have to be there for it. All else is mere thinking.

At the same time, you have to be on the lookout for tendencies toward self-deception, deluded thinking, grandiosity, self-inflation, and impulses toward exploitation and cruelty directed at other beings. A lot of harm has come in all eras from people attached to one view of spiritual “truth.” And a lot more has come from people who hide behind the cloak of spirituality and are willing to harm others to feed their own appetites.

Moreover, our ideas of spirituality frequently ring with a slightly holier-than-thou resonance to the attuned ear. Narrow, literalist views of spirit often place it above the “gross,” “polluted,” “deluded” domain of body, mind, and matter. Falling into such views, people can use ideas of spirit to run from life.’

Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are.