Last weekend I attended a mindfulness workshop with Christopher Titmuss, mindfulness teacher per excellence, ex-Buddhist monk in a Thai monastery, amazing speaker, father and much more. What a treat. For starters, as much as I love my kids, not having anyone climb over me while meditating, urge me to come and play outside NOW as I’m going through my daily asanas or jump over my plate while having lunch was a luxury in itself. Writing this post gives me another opportunity to reflect on the delicious retreat and its main themes.
Why bother with mindfulness? The desire to experience happiness is a common and universal motivation in all people. Most of us unwittingly find ourselves swinging between an irrepressible attempt to manifest and hold on the pleasant things, moments and people in life on the one hand, and a furtive compulsion to avoid anything that feels unpleasant on the other. The inherent problem with this approach is that it puts our happiness into the hands of outside events. In the roller-coaster of life, downs are unavoidable and often triggered through experiences which are out of the safe realm of our control. Through mindfulness one can investigate the liberating possibility of ending this struggle between the two poles and observing everything with a healthy level of equanimity.
Mindfulness training stems from the teachings of the Buddha, given more than 2.5 thousand years ago. It implies a presence in the moment with an equanimous mind towards the sensations experienced in the body. Applying this concept beyond the meditation hall into everyday life was one of the main emphasis throughout the day.
As such, ethics was also explored in meditation and conversation. Treating others like you would like to be treated. Common sense, it seems, but unfortunately common sense is not so common judging by the current state of this world. On Happy Dancer, us sailing family and cruising yogis are trying to address this issue not by not leaving footprints in the divine places we get to visit, but by leaving reminiscence of acts of kindness behind. While in England, I have the amazing opportunity of spreading more peace and mindfulness amongst my wonderful yoga students. Once back on the boat in Greece in July or so, our first project will be cleaning up the local beach which could be so beautiful but is filled with torn plastic bags, old fishing nets and mounts of other rubbish.
Sangha – community
Sangha, or a like-minded community, is described by Buddha as one of the three Jewels to help us create a more mindful, and happier existence. Boy, do we know that. In terms of cruising, nothing has been as valuable as connecting with other people who dare to dream. They give helpful advice in the best of times, and are the fuel to keep us going in the worst of times when everything seems just overwhelmingly impossible. Part of connecting is listening. Really listening – not cooking, texting or doing anything else aside from truly listening. How often do we make space for really connecting with our partner, children or friends? And how often do we take their physical presence just for granted and assume that just because two people are physically present no further effort is needed to enhance the relationship? Before we know it, time has flown by and a huge emotional gap grown which, at times, can threaten the whole relationship.
The interrelationship between energy, meditation, mindfulness, concentration and trust was another focal point, with the latter being described as the base for the others. When everything else is taken away from you and one monkey is in the middle of swinging from one branch to the other, basically all there is left is trust. And gosh, can I relate to that! Back in November when neither boat, nor job nor anything was tangible, but all our live in Sydney had been left behind, I did have moments where my last grip onto hope was with nothing else but my little left finger. Luckily I didn’t let go. And here we are, months later, with a slowly re-filling kitty and a beautiful boat waiting to show us the Greek islands and the world beyond.
Mindful eating is another important consideration. This includes chewing your food so that food becomes liquid, and liquid is treated as if it was food. Hugely beneficial for your over all health! Moreover, taking just a few moments before every meal giving thought and thanks to all the people who made it possible for the delicacies to be on your plate is an imminent reminder of the interconnectedness of this world. Logic has it, that you would want to treat all those people, animals and soils who allow you to survive and rejoice in a rather kind way. Are we respecting this world enough for what it gives us? Inner peace and happiness can impossibly be achieved without the appropriate outer attitude and lifestyle. Our international vegetarian kitchen is a constant reminder of one of the benefits of globalization: Tahini from Macedonia, Vegimite from down under, Ghee from India, Pimenton from Spain, Bee polen from the Acores, Maple syrup from Canada, Chai mix from India, Miso from Japan… Another yummy, healthy, easy, gluten–dairy–nasty free recipe soon to follow, I promise.
I was told that later in the year Christopher’s dharma talk will be available for download or streaming on the Boddhi Tree Website, so watch their space. If you happen to be in Brighton, I would strongly recommend giving these guys a visit. Just as I was to finish off this post, asking you dear readers for your thoughts on mindfulness, an email from a dear friend pops in, also contemplating mindfulness and happiness:
Happiness is completely different for different people, for some people it is synonymous with adventure, for others it is synonymous with conquering fears (slightly different), for others it is an intellectual challenge, for others it is complete devotion to a specific task, even if they never finish it, for other’s still it is the feeling that they are materially providing for themselves and their loved ones, other people get happiness out of a routine that mixes all aspects together in nice proportion (family, friends, adventure, exploration, hobbies, work etc)… So I guess it’s … about realising … what makes you happy in this particular part of your life.
In that realisation lies mindfulness, presence. Here’s the resolutions I have taken to bring more presence into my life this week which will see me skip from one decade into the next:
- Always include an ‘om’ before every meal to bring more presence to the nourishment of body/mind to follow
- If necessary spend less time playing with my kids, but when I do so being 100 percent present
- Include more couple-conscious moments into every day, rather than taking each other’s presence for granted
- Really listen to a friend, without interference of the kind ‘I know what you mean,’, ‘How about…’… nothing of that problem-solving rush, just pure listening
- Be more aware of butterflies, flowers and all the environment around us when we go for walks
Heaven and hell are not topographies, but exist as states within our own minds. (Buddha)