Tag: Meditation

On the mezzanine

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

Location: Forum Mezzanine, John Henry Brookes Building, Oxford Brookes, Headington.


In a discussion about the places people go for quiet reflection, my doctoral supervisor, Paul Whitty, mentioned the mezzanine study area overlooking the Forum Café at Oxford Brookes University. As is the current trend, the study area is open plan combining the facilities required for study with the laid-back feel of a café. Unsurprisingly, when asking people where they head to be alone with their thoughts, both cafés and libraries are frequently cited. Commonly open to the public, they are places where anonymity and personal space are generally respected and where being unaccompanied and doing nothing in particular, is socially acceptable. Their soundscape is typically unobtrusive, familiar and comforting, supporting concentration or allowing an individual to simply get lost in thought. The study area above ‘The Forum’ is one of these spaces. It comprises a large, open, mezzanine floor that permits the familiar relaxed babble of largely unintelligible chat, the reverberant knocks and scrapes of furniture and occasional bleep of electronic notifications to rise-up from the café area below. Despite the presence of an expansive glass window next to me and plastered ceiling above, the large sofas and carpeted floor dampened much of the reverberant sound. Only those voices in the immediate vicinity were intelligible, with semi-circular partitions helping to mute many nearby conversations. A couple sat together on a sofa in front of me and behind were two students speaking to each other in Arabic. As I have no understanding of Arabic, their chat rarely drew my attention. It was only the occasional English word that I registered; ‘Adobe’, ‘Photoshop’, ‘software’ and with no access to a context, these words remained briefly jotted mental notes. In all, there was little in the way of auditory distraction, unless you chose to tune in to the soundscape or strained to hear a nearby conversation.

After finding a place to sit, I erected and tested a rather conspicuous Jecklin Disc stereo recording array, set the timer on my phone and settled into the comfy bucket-style-sofa I had chosen. No one seemed at all distracted by the sounding of the meditation bell, no doubt because it was so ubiquitous, blending in with the many other sounds of technology permeating the space. I naturally slouched back into the seat, trying not to draw any more attention to myself, not because I felt self-conscious, but to avoid stifling other’s conversations through fear of feeling monitored. After only a few minutes of reclining on the sofa I noticed the strain on my neck from holding my head upright. Rather than adjusting my posture, I decided to simply observe how the position effected my ‘bodymind’ (a term that has associations with alternative medicine, but feels increasingly fitting the longer I practice). It was interesting to notice how my slumped posture seemed to promote a disposition of distracted relaxation, rather than relaxed focus. I have observed in previous meditations that maintaining the traditional position, with the head balancing on the erect column of the spine has helped to direct the mind and maintain awareness. This heightened focus could, of course, simply be due to association. Nonetheless, the upright posture seems to embody a balance, solidity and dignity that cultivates a calm, persistent attentiveness. By relaxing inconspicuously into my chair, I had inadvertently made my meditation that little more challenging. Laughably, the futility of trying to blend in became clear later when the couple in front of me who, on my arrival, had stopped talking and had become engrossed in their laptops, noticed I had dismantled the recording gear and so resumed their conversation.


In previous Lion Seats meditations I have noticed how the paraphernalia associated with field recording can easily interrupt the natural flow of a meditation and spawn layers of complexity that frustrate the simple act of maintaining singular attention. On this occasion, I quickly became aware of my leg brushing against the XLR cables, a noise exacerbated by sensitive microphones with little protective suspension. Small shifts of my calf or even slight upper body movements would induce a low rumbling on the recording. So, when itches arose in my foot, I was compelled to patiently observe the rise and fall of the sensation, rather than shifting my foot in the shoe. It was interesting to notice the way in which fixing my attention on the itch, far from increasing my mental agitation, offered a sense of relief and detachment. As with observing my posture, the itching sensation became the object of meditation, a focus that was supported by my desire not to ‘ruin’ the recording with extraneous ‘handling noise’.

On this occasion, the meditation was quite brief, lasting only ten minutes. Yet within this time there was much that resonated with previous experiences in other settings and brought particular issues into sharper focus. Certainly, working with the situation as it presented itself, rather than fighting against it, once again proved to be central in supporting a compassionate awareness. This required both an ability and willingness to change the focus of the meditation and to vary the approach taken. With a fixed idea of what the meditation should be, I would have remained closed to the possibilities that presented themselves. The ability to be adaptable and to draw from a range of alternative practices, afforded a frustrating circumstance to become an opportunity. These alternative practices may not involve maintaining single-pointed concentration, but continue to promote mindful awareness and cultivate insight through other means. Loosening attachment to expectations and outcomes appears to be key here.

The way in which the posture and position of the body influenced my orientation towards practice was also evident. If my body assumes a position that embodies an intention to meditate, my ability to direct and sustain attention seems to be improved. The degree to which this is due to established associations or inherent physiological factors will, no doubt, vary from person-to person and situation-to-situation. Adopting a traditional meditative posture may not always be possible or desirable, but it nevertheless emerges as an important factor in nurturing meditative focus.

Lastly, there is a recognition that whilst amplifying found sound has proven to be an effective means of supporting present-centred awareness, the requirements involved in making a recording and maintaining meditative focus are often at odds. The impetus behind samatha meditation, the principal practice in this project, is to calm the mind through sustained single-pointed concentration. The motivation of the field recordist, on the other hand, can vary but typically necessitates the modulation of attention between personal, technical and environmental factors with the intention of producing a recording that can be presented to others. Whilst these different motivations can both, at times, be accommodated they are, in my experience, more likely to compete. If Lion Seats was an investigation into mindful field recording, there would be little difficulty in accommodating the two practices of mindfulness and field recording. Such ‘informal’ mindfulness practice would simply require a present-centred awareness of the recording process whilst incorporating a ‘meta-awareness’ of the recordist’s perceptions and reactions to events. However, samatha meditation requires a singular focus, which for this project has been the rise and fall of the breath. Any activity competing for attention clearly makes this practice more challenging. The most satisfactory resolution has been to treat the two practices as distinct, setting up recording equipment and letting it run whilst meditating without monitoring or even considering the recording being captured. In some situations this approach has been effective, yet in the majority of cases creating a clear separation between the two practices has been more problematic. Thoughts such as ‘is the equipment safe?’, ‘did that loud sound peak the meters?’, ‘is the rain going to get into the mic?’ frequently persist. Although the process of undertaking these audio recordings of meditations has been insightful, it has also suggested that field recording and formal meditation are not always good bedfellows.

Morning Meditation

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

Transcript of Recording
7am 26-09-17

[sounds transcribed from recording]

Home office/studio/quiet room with interior door closed (the catch needs fixing so is presently difficult to open, which I initially thought was no bad thing!)

[muffled thumping sound from upstairs]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Muted invitation of the bell, then a full sustained sound]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
[Rustling of clothing as I adjust my posture on the cushions]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x2)’
‘It feels strange meditating with mics in my ears.’
‘Pressure on the side of my head.’
‘In, out (x3)’
‘What’s that banging?’
‘In, out (x2)’
[Rapid loud knocking on the door]
‘Do I answer it or do I not?’
[Struggling to get the door open followed by more knocking]
“Phoebe is it life and death?”
“No, can you make me some toast?”
“No, not for another fifteen minutes.”
“Ellen can make you some toast if you like?”
‘Phoebe and Ellen arguing in the hallway’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x1)’
‘Nose whistling’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
[something hard clinking against the inside of the washing machine as it turns]
‘Ellen making Phoebe toast.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x4)’
[rustling of cereal packet]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x4)’
‘Should I have set the meditation timer on my phone?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
‘Sinus headache’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x4)’
[closing door and booming sound of someone walking up the stairs above me]
‘Who went upstairs?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x6)’
[buzz and mellow rising arpeggio of the phone’s notification sound]
‘Phone notification, but it’s on airplane mode?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x6)’
‘How do I record the breathing?’
[clinking of cutlery against china]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
‘I feel distracted’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x3)’
‘Is that Phoebe’s bowl and spoon or the cats eating out of their bowls? ‘
‘I thought she was having toast?’
[rhythmical clunking of the washing machine again]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x5)’
‘Replaying the incident with Phoebe in my mind.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x3)’
‘Birdsong. Chirping.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x16)’
[booming from upstairs continues, scrape of chair against the wood floor and the empty bowl and spoon being placed by the kitchen sink]
‘Perhaps it’s the washing machine?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x5)’
[more fast-paced booming from movement upstairs and closing of bathroom door]
‘Door shutting’
[shutting of bedroom door]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x9)’
‘Even the thought that I could be disturbed is unsettling my mind.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x22)’
[clinking of the washing machine, brighter, less muffled this time]
‘Is ‘Lion Seats’ a good name?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x13)’
[what sounds like the front door being opened and closed again]
‘Is that the front door?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x6)’
‘Thoughts form as a kind of cloud before you can actually describe them.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x29)’
‘What’s that noise?’
[high pitched clinking as zips knock against the glass door of the washing machine and lower clunks as the ‘washing ball’ does the same]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x16)’
[Engine starts up and drives off]
‘Steve leaving in his van’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x10)’
[Rattling of door handle as someone tries to enter the room]
‘Is that Phoebe again, or Elizabeth?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x2)’
‘My right leg is feeling numb – pins and needles.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x8)’
[Door handle starts again followed by three loud knocks]
“Who is it? Who is it?”
“Who is it?”
“It’s Beth”, I just woke up.”
“Why do you need to come in?”
“Why do you need to come in?”
“I need to…I need to tell you two things: A. Can I use the leftover white bread and B. wasn’t I suppose to make my lunchbox?”
“OK, hang on five minutes.”
“Well, can I use the white bread?”
[Beth muttering under her breath]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x14 breathing noticeably speeding up)’
‘I’m feeling mildly angry and a little tense. I’ve been interrupted twice, they should know better, they….’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x26)’
‘Replaying events in my mind. Still feeling annoyed. Return to my breathing.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x14)’
[rattling of cutlery in draw and kitchen cupboard door opening.
‘Toaster’s pinged. Hope she’s not putting a knife in there to get the toast out.’
[Knife in jar and hitting against plate]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
‘I should really make their packed lunches.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x10)’
‘Deep breath/sigh’
[Muted invitation of the bell, then a full sustained sound]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
[Bell with thumping of feet going up the stairs]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
[Pouring tea, clink of tea cup]
“Dad, it’s almost half past seven”
“Aren’t you going to get dressed and umm… and do the lunchboxes?”
“Yep, you get yourself sorted my darling and I’ll… I’ll get it all ready.”
“I’m ready, it’s just the lunch boxes aren’t done.”
“Uh-huh, yep, just coming to do those.”
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x4)’
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Clink of tea cup put back on its saucer]

Two Rivers Sangha

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

20:00 28-05-17

Location: Berkshire Pilates, 101 London Street, Reading, RG1 4QA

“With posture upright and solid…
we are seated…
at the foot of…
the Bodhi tree…
Body speech and mind…
all are one…
in stillness…
There is no more thought of right and wrong…
Our minds and bodies dwell in perfect mindfulness…”

As I sung the evening chant I felt myself settling into the quiet of the space. Familiar words sung at an unnaturally slow tempo were usually effective in grounding me in the present and connecting me to the others at the sangha meeting. Next came the sitting meditation, a time to still the body and rest my attention on the breath to let the monologue of thoughts fade to silence (well that’s the theory any way). However, after a busy week, a succession of late nights and broken sleep, my practice was simply to keep my head upright and my body from slumping over in an unconscious heap on the floor. My lowered gaze frequently became a blackout, my head falling forward – all the time struggling to right itself. I do not remember hearing anything during these twenty-five minutes of sitting, though the low rumble of traffic noise, the clicks and buzzes of the heaters warming up and the even rhythm of the clock were no doubt still present. Neither did any other thoughts appear to arise, I was not plagued by the ‘to do’ list that so often pervades my mind. My attention was gathered and united in a single mission – to stay awake.

It was with great relief that we began kinh hanh or walking meditation. I had made it through the first sitting. The slow movement offered a long-awaited break from what seemed like a lifetime of remaining stationary and upright. The struggling mind I had needed to keep awake gently gave way to an ease and calm. I found my breathing synchronise intuitively with the rhythm of my feet on the carpet. This peacefulness continued into the second sitting. Feeling more awake and without the struggle, I settled quickly, following the rise and fall of my chest as I echoed the gatha ‘breathing in…breathing out’ to myself. My eyes were soft-focused through my eyelashes, resting on a small stain in the carpet in front of me. For short bursts of a few seconds I heard the gatha clearly in my mind. During these moments I became very still, a contented tranquility permeated my perception. Strangely, the carpet in front of me appeared less solid than it had done in the first sitting. I played with this experience, seeing how the stillness ebbed and flowed as thoughts arose and fell away. I noticed the way in which sounds that pierced the otherwise unbroken drone of traffic on London Street outside would bring my eyes into sharper focus on the carpet and interrupt the serene composure. Knocks, bangs and movements from people in a connected terrace further along the street, children laughing and screaming as they walked by the front door, a distant siren from the nearby hospital, all pulled my attention from the gatha. Although I may have briefly labelled these sounds, I noticed how I had no inclination to ‘follow’ them, to explore their origin, meaning or substance. Each time I brought my attention back to the gatha and breath, peace descended again. And so this continued through to the end of the period of sitting. In contrast to the first sitting meditation, I could have happily sat there for another hour or more. Still, the twenty-five minutes came to an end and having fostered some degree of stillness, gratitude was able to permeate my parting gasho (bow) to those present and the Buddha, a ritual marking the close of the meeting.

St.Mary’s Whitchurch

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

13.00 22-06-2017

Location: St. Mary’s, Whitchurch on Thames, Oxfordshire

[Outside St Mary’s Whitchurch 1pm 20th Sept 17]

Beside an old oak tree in St Mary’s churchyard

As I passed from the graveyard, through the entrance and into the vestibule of the stone church, the drop in sound levels was marked. The difference in the soundscape was paralleled by the change in brightness, from summer sun to the shade offered by the church. Inside, the only light came from the subdued glow of the stained-glass windows and a handful of dim electric lightbulbs.

I set up my recording gear and sat down for a short meditation on a gratifyingly creaky, but well-padded pew. No sooner had I set the meditation timer underway, than the clacking of shoes on the stone floor interrupted the silence. I glanced back to the doorway to see a man in smart trousers, shirt and a weathered panama hat. The visitor had a relaxed gait as he wandered aimlessly around the back of the nave. I settled back into position, closing my eyes and resting my hands on my legs. The bell sounded to begin the meditation and after a few minutes, the gentleman departed.

Now, there was little to pull my attention away from the meditation. The soundscape of the empty church consisted predominantly of a low rumbling drone, probably from traffic going over the toll bridge at the bottom of the lane. This was layered with dogs barking, bird calls, aircraft passing overhead and the occasional rhythmic rumble of trains rattling through Pangbourne on the other side of the river.

[St Mary’s, Whitchurch on Thames 1pm 22-06-17]

Meditation inside the church

A clunk of the large iron handle on the church door signalled the arrival of another visitor. They moved across the back of the nave. The swishing of fabric and soft tread of rubber shoes came closer and stopped to rest a few pews behind me. A deep sigh seemed to signal a relief in finding somewhere quiet to rest. After some settling-in, unzipping and rummaging through a bag, the haptic bleeping of a phone’s keyboard began. The constant irregular tapping was accompanied by whispered sighs and groans and the occasional respectfully muted chuckle. I managed to return to my breath, the object of my meditation, for short periods of time. However, it was difficult not to get distracted, imagining the text conversation that was taking place. Perhaps due to these distractions, it did not feel long until the closing bell from the mobile phone sounded to signal the end of the meditation, surprising the visitor and affording both of us a moment of quiet reflection.