Tag: mindfulness

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.

Floating Point

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

Location: Floating Point, Bourne House, Horseshoe Road, Pangbourne, RG8 7JQ

The hour-long floatation tank session began with ten minutes of restful ambient music, comprising of slowly shifting choral lines, rounded bass notes and gently modulating synth pads. I could imagine some criticising it as cliché, but its familiarity and strong associations with other relaxation treatments helped me to settle in to the unfamiliar surroundings. As I lay back and slowly sank my head beneath the water, the music took on a lower, mellower tone, hushed, less distinct and with a distant ethereal quality. Carefully adjusting my body to find a comfortable position, I noticed the movement barely made a sound. The lapping of my arms on the surface of the water was the only audible addition to the bed of ambient sound and music.

(Stereo hydrophone recording of the first twelve minutes of the float)

(Ambient stereo recording (Jecklin Disk) in front of the floatation tank)

With the first ten minutes of the float ending, the music faded to leave a continuous low hum, soothing in its constancy. Emerging from this hum I noticed my breathing, low and muffled. Familiar, but stark in the silence, the intimate presence of breathing when the ears are submerged made me pay attention to its quality and measure. As the pace of the breath slowed, I noticed, rather disconcertingly at first, the presence of bodily sounds, much clearer than I’d ordinarily hear them. Whilst, for the most part, the rise and fall of the breath masked these, I could catch hints of the pulse in my ears, indeed throughout my body. I even sensed the pulse creating ripples in the water, particularly where arteries ran close to the surface of the skin. Holding my breath unmasked a variety of gurgles and bubbling from somewhere inside my body. Strangely, a lot of the sounds seemed to appear at or between the ears rather than from the point they originated from. This was true of the high pitched, rapid succession of bubbles occurring in small bursts, more than likely emanating from my stomach. Yet strangely, without the vibration being felt, I had little sense of where these bubbles had come from. They simply appeared as a fizzing between the ears, at the back of the head or lower neck. In contrast, the lower pitched sounds could be sensed more readily as slight tremors in the abdomen. Blinking, I even noticed that my eyelids created a flickering sound as they opened. Being cradled in the warm salty water and having familiarised myself with the novel soundscape, my body largely disappeared from awareness. I placed my attention on the rise and fall of the breath and my mind rapidly sank into a deep, meditative stillness.

For long periods of time over the next thirty minutes, my awareness of sound fell away completely. I was left resting floating in the darkness of the tank, with no sensory stimulation for reference, spare the occasional brush of my skin on the side of the tank. Yet even this sensation was so subtle that I could not tell whether I was merely imagining it. The slow fade-in of the ambient music once again, calmly announced the imminent end of the float session. Beginning with small movements, I gradually came back to awareness of the body and its sensations, exploring movements as if I were observing my body from a distance, re-learning the skill of moving one limb at a time. The noise of the tank’s filter commencing its cleaning cycle marked the end of the float and a return to the noise of the world.