The centre is not the head

Have you ever noticed how you walk?

Some of us move from our head, our chest, our shoulders, the rest of the body just catching up. We are in a rush to get somewhere even when there is no need. We can stand in a queue and there is nothing to do but wait and yet we are tight in the mind and body, creating an invisible barrier of separateness with the environment. It is seen in the eyes and around the mouth. We may have tension in the belly, the lower back, the neck and shoulders. A restlessness.

Imagine moving with ease and grace, soft in the eyes, soft around the mouth, taking your time to be and do, a simple attentiveness to the present. This is not passive being, it is open awareness of our moment to moment experience whether we like what’s happening or not. If there is unease, we pause, we take a breath, we feel the breath down in the lower belly and we respond from a place of balance.

We can cultivate lightness of being through a gradual process of befriending the mind and the body. It requires a meta awareness and a willingness to drop into the body and use the breath as an anchor point to feel and experience being centred. The more we realise our head is not the centre, the more we can trust the intelligence of the body and the breath to lead the way.

Temporary Suspension

The Kroller Muller Museum, Otterlo, is one of my favourite places here in the Netherlands. This weekend we were there (again), taking the shaded paths around the sculpture garden. The Needle Tower (pictured here), seemed to lose itself to infinity hovering precariously upwards and beyond, an aluminium and steel structure that somehow belonged to the landscape. The sky played with the geometric forms, the sculpture mimicked the sky. It was imposing yet fragile, permanent and transitory. The interplay and interconnectedness between viewer, object and environment took me out of the everyday aspect of life. It was an aesthetic experience transcending the self, momentary yet timeless.

This feeling of being outside of time and space in the conventional sense is very similar to being in a meditation practice where we transcend or lose our sense of self, the ever grasping ego of wants and desires evaporates. Art and nature are both aspects of life that create a similar dynamic to meditation, there is an element of engaging that becomes a subtle letting go.

When we contemplate aesthetically, or come to a certain meditative state, there is a sense of losing the ‘I’ of who we are, as we merge with everything around us,  without boundaries, there is no separation.  It is the still point of temporary suspension where time stands still.

Who am I at work?

The Japanese have a formal term for the “outside” mask others see: ‘tatemae,’ and the “inside” face that few people see, ‘honne.’ This is especially common in the workplace, and is not just particular to Japan.

I lived in Japan for a couple of years following university and I remember this terminology. As a gaijin (foreigner), I was on the outside looking in, certainly to start with. People put on their work clothes, their work voice and mostly didn’t want to stand out from the crowd. Work is a great example of wearing the outside mask. The more firmly fixed this is, the more our real self, the one that feels relaxed and at ease in mind and body, is hidden from others.

The idea of wearing a mask or several masks depending on context and situation, is almost always about people and relationships. I have worked at several companies and I am familiar with the work mask, either you let your true self, ‘honne,’ illuminate through in your work environment and interactions, or you keep that work face firmly in place.  It’s a matter of degree of course, we need to adapt ourselves to situations but sometimes we can take this too far. We can look and act professional, say what management want to hear, get promoted even, and yet for many of us, somewhere deep inside we are not really happy.

What gets in the way of showing more of your real self, the ‘honne’ in the workplace? Is it the work culture, your boss, your colleagues, your own judgements about yourself? Are you scared that you won’t be taken seriously if you let your guard down? If you are not being true to yourself and you are aware that you are hiding behind ‘tatemae’, then pause, take time to uncover what’s going on behind the mask. This is not always an easy exercise, often there is fear lurking in the background that is the underlying cause of our unease.

Befriending the self takes time and commitment but it will  allow us to develop more self-confidence about who we are, we can start to let ‘honne’ shine through in body and mind, our eyes and our smile, the mask begins begins to dissolve.

To be who you really are takes courage but it will make a big difference to your life if you can let yourself shine from within.

Time is like a bag with a big hole in it

Why are we so obsessed with what time it is?

Time has got to be one of the greatest causes of stress, because we always think we are running out of it. Ironically, when we are still our mind is either in the past or the future, but if you let it,- it will slowly settle into now, hence meditation as a great practice to allow some space around this stressful illusion that time is indeed running out. Underneath this is of course the fear that ultimately when it runs out that’s it, The End.

We are condemned by the constraints of time.  When Sartre said ‘man is condemned to be free,’ I see time as one of the shackles we bear in our ‘freedom’ as human beings. There’s never enough time, or we are running out of time, or we watch the clock until we finish work and then real time kicks in. Or the only time that time has meaning is when it is the weekend or we are on holiday.

Time is like a bag with a big hole in it. Where did the time go? I wish we had more time? I guess it’s because clock time never stands still so there is an illusion that time is always moving, there is no present moment, or there it is and then it is gone. Quick catch it if you can!

Meditation is one way to go beyond time and actually allow it to flow through the hole in the bag. Be part of that flow instead of trying to control it or pin it down.

Out of your head into your body

The conditioned modality we live in is in our heads. We live in our heads almost all of the time apart from when pain or tension in the body calls us to respond. When we do respond the response is often a head based reaction, a verbal reaction. We often treat our body as if it were separate from the head.

Every moment thoughts are vying for our attention. It is as if our head is hovering 30 cm in front of us as we proceed through the day: planning, thinking, creating narratives, projecting forward. The head leads, the body follows.

We live in a back and forth relationship with past based thinking and future based thinking, only occasionally do we feel and see the present as a tiny slit of light in a dark room. That light is integration, the head is back on the neck, integrated with the body and interconnected with our surroundings. We are in felt relationship with the self and the world around us.

Using the breath as an anchor, feeling the breath deep in the lowest part of the belly, we can cultivate befriending the self and bring the head back to the body. As we practice yoga and mindfulness our mind, heart, and belly come into balance and harmony.  There is a feeling of space and freedom within and in relationship to our environment and our interactions.

Life is like the (dutch or british) weather, it is never the same for very long!

Life would be dull if things stayed just the way we wanted them to be. Every minute, every second there is constant change and movement taking place, in everything. In this moment,- sitting or standing, wherever you are, change is happening in your body, right down to the most subtle level.

I feel good right now, I want to stay feeling good. It’s bright and sunny, it may rain later, it may hail or even snow. I might cry. Yet I want to stay feeling good.

We want to cling to the joy, show aversion to the pain, make it go away somehow.  It is easier perhaps to stay present with what is joyful, yet often, ironically, we can be more present with suffering because it feels more raw.  To be present in whatever mood state or situation we must practice being in touch with our mind state and body state and we can do this through the breath. Conscious breathing is our anchor to finding balance and composure in the midst of change.

Circumstances change, people change, everything changes, even though we can delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.  Becoming aware of this helps to create a more balanced and contented perspective. All of us will face sickness and death, all the big topics we don’t like to think about when it comes to impermanence, especially our own. Yet confront them, – see that change is all pervasive, understand it and embrace it.  Make the most of your life and your potential for being. There is nothing passive about accepting impermanence!



To be or Not to be, that is the question

This is of course the start of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, whether to continue to live his life or to end it. I use it in the context of To Be Present or Not to be Present.

To be, or Not to be, is the question, the position, or the mind state, in a moment of wanting to say or act out we have a choice, “to be or not to be.” To be, I see as resting in awareness, in presence, Not to be, is to give into chaos and habit mind, to react. It is of course a momentary fraction of a pause that will make the difference as to whether you respond or react in any given situation. It can be quite a challenge if you have reacted the same way to certain situations or triggers for most of your life.

In any given moment where you notice you are about to be triggered, pause. Make a conscious choice To Be with your breath. That is the point that allows you to choose how the next moment will unfold, it is such a small space but it becomes magnificent if we heed it. Mindfulness is awareness and the ability to observe experience. No one said it was easy, but with continued practice it does open a space to move away from your usual habitual reaction that is not helpful to you or others.

We can cause harm to our relationships and ourselves if we choose to not be present. Be aware of the energy that pushes you into doing or saying what you don’t want to say but you go ahead anyway because that is what your are used to.

To be (present) or not to be (present), you decide.

Quack Quack

Monday hits us with the familiar sound of the alarm clock. We get swept up into the week and the usual pattern ensues, as we succumb to the expectations, norms and conventions of everydayness. Before the week has even started we long for the weekend again.
Are we being true to ourselves as we live like this? For much of the time we are on auto pilot, and this is often the case for those who work and even for those who don’t.

It is inevitable in many respects that we get swept along with the day to day, but we can lose sight of the now as we peddle fast to keep up with others or engage for the sake of engagement or obligation. We forget that we have it in our gift to stop even in the midst of to-do-ness.

This can happen as we glance up from washing the dishes and catch a rainbow, or stop to watch the ducks in the canal on our way to work, or we have a moment of anxiety brought on by any number of triggers. These moments can plunge us into despair but can also awaken us to our meaning in the world. The rainbow, the duck or the anxiety can jolt us into wakefulness.

Being authentic in our life is to create a balance between the everydayness we can get swept into and the pauses and sometimes stresses, which allow us to reclaim our lives and live more authentically.


I am learning Dutch and the word herinneringen is one I came across at the weekend, I wanted to say: “memories are a funny thing”. (I didn’t get much beyond the first word, herinneringen!).

What is the memory of this summer just gone, was it a good one? What defines that?

Memories are part and parcel of the complex nature of being, some form deep emotional roots, others are so transient they evaporate. We cannot be who we are without our backlog of memory files, created moment by moment; they form and shape the narrative of our identity. Some files gets edited and re-edited as we retrieve them, talk about them,  and embellish them. The weight of those files, is either the baggage we carry on our backs, or,  the notepad that weighs very little.

Herinneringen is an interesting concept when we talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness is often interpreted as moment to moment awareness, but it is of course bound up with memory. The traditional Pali meaning of the word mindfulness (Sati), is seated somewhere in the realms of remembering, calling to mind. How we experience successions of now moments is based on the history of how we experience and interpret our life.

Think back on part of your summer, how much of what you remember and recollect truly reflects the experience? There is a tendency for the remembering self to focus on the negative aspects, even if they only constitute a small part of the overall experience.

The cultivation of mindfulness helps create memory files that are less judgemental, less prone to mental elaboration. We learn to experience  our day to day without getting caught up in the proliferating narrative and the meta narrative that ensues. This happens over time as we develop our mindfulness practice and get to know our selves better.

The only journey is the one within

You can travel from A to B like I have recently, moving from my home in England to a new home in Holland, but it is the journey within that is most important. And it is not always easy. The mind states we carry come with us on our travels.

The path of yoga and mindfulness helps open the door within, to explore who you really are and your meaning in this world. That journey is a continuum unfurling moment by moment and it is not always a straight or smooth path.

How we navigate that course in response to what happens day to day, determines the quality of that journey.  We can be thrown off kilter or we can be in balance, even if the road ahead is uncertain. There are times when we come to a split in the road,  we can sense the potential for change, but fear can get in the way of taking the road less travelled. If we feel grounded even in the face of uncertainty we can  elect to choose a different path and face the challenges ahead.

In order to cultivate groundedness and balance we need to be aware of our actions, our thoughts, our words. After all, what we do, think and say, is the measure of who we are day to day. Whilst the journey is not always bright or smooth we learn from the moments of darkness and the pitfalls. It is often the less well trodden path that enables this learning and growth.

Through self analysis and reflection, tuning in and soft listening to the body and the mind in various contexts and situations, we start to befriend the self and cultivate mental balance.

When we radiate equanimity it touches those around us. Our well being is fundamentally interconnected with the well being of others. So the journey within is reflected back to us and we know if we are on the right path because we feel the smile within, even if the path is difficult.

In time we cultivate more wholesome habits, more skilfull responses. The journey keeps unfolding and we continue, with purpose and a smile.

To quote Jon Kabat Zinn, “Wherever you go, there you are.”