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About Practice

Below are suggestions, reflections and writings on how to practice mindfulness.
You can subscribe to this blog by giving your RSS reader this link: https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/about-practice/RSS.
See also Articles and Research for background on what mindfulness is and how it works.

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  • 14 May 2018 11:42 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    • Question subjective experience in meditation
      Recognize that the mind desires pleasant experience and don't assume that difficult or unpleasant conditions during meditation mean it “isn't working.” Meet what is with equanimity and evaluate in the broader scale of your overall life experience. Be curious about whether you can really know about your “progress” on the path. This is not to say we can't make choices that lead to pleasant experience during meditation – we are more likely to continue if we enjoy positive experiences in meditation – but remember that it really doesn't tell us if our meditation is helping us.
    • Our resistance to practice is telling us something - listen but don't listen too much
      Be curious about that voice that's telling you you don't have time, aren't good enough, etc. Is there a part of you that would rather wallow in familiar patterns of suffering than see change? Meet that confused child with kindness and wonder what he or she needs to let go. Be firm but nurturing in your aspiration to practice. And at times, “Shut up! I'm sitting down to practice” may indeed be skillful.
    • Make practice routine – it's special and it isn't
      Having a regular routine helps us with other good habits. Flossing before bed, for example. Apply the power of habit and consistency to meditation practice. Creating a regular time is helpful. But then notice if we become dependent on that regular time. Can we circle back later if we oversleep or miss our regular practice window - at least practice a little that day?
    • Daily is easier
      This is counterintuitive, but practicing every day (or perhaps every day but a clearly established day off) is easier than every other day or a few times a week as it helps to shift us out of the evaluative frame of deciding if this is the right day.
    • Have a fall-back plan, and a fall-back-fall-back plan
      Doing something near-daily that's just about mindfulness, awareness and unconditional self-care is very powerful. Rather than skipping a day because you're running late, do less. Even a lot less. Consider ritual action (lighting a candle, offering incense, daily recitation, bowing, etc.) as a part of your daily practice routine as ritual comes to deeply symbolize your intention when done consistently over time. A daily routine of a ritual action, a few yoga stretches, and 30 minutes of sitting takes about 40-45 minutes. On a tight morning, just doing the ritual action and one slow stretch with a spirit of kindness and forgiveness can keep you very much on track. Or just the ritual action. Or simply going to your practice spot and taking three mindful slow breaths. Drop down to something that takes so little time it's almost impossible to talk yourself out of it!
    • A nice space helps, but can be very modest
      A pleasant, clean quiet place to practice is supportive. But just like our regular routine or our desire for a positive subjective experience during meditation, be careful not to give this too much priority. We can practice anywhere and anytime. Don't feel like it's a barrier that you don't have an entire room or you aren't able to maintain nice flowers on an altar. Also, remember that caring for your space is caring for yourself, so give it some energy if you can.
    • Seek Support!
      Recognize our deep patterning about “I should be able to do this myself.” We are deeply individualized and oriented around self-power. We need the help of others to keep up our practice. Seek support. Possibilities include: joining a weekly sitting group, scheduling annual retreats (one or two weekend retreats/year is a great goal), taking classes, telling your partner or close friends of your current practice plan and inviting their support in keeping to it, establishing a relationship with a meditation teacher, reading inspirational texts.
    • Celebrate growth
      Notice if patterns of reactivity change. Notice if you are sensing and appreciating more that passes into the senses. Celebrate when friends and loved ones notice that you're changing for the better. Smile more. Breathe. Recognize that the patterning of life is incredibly complex and we don't know what changes us but that doing the practice helps. When we see the fruits of practice, have a (quiet) party to celebrate. A small change is big.
    • Formal and informal practice support each other
      Find ways that work for you (most critically: that you can remember) to touch into the feeling of practice in body, breath, emotion and mind regularly during the day. The formal practice done regularly allows you to explore this territory, touching into it regularly in informal practice – it just takes a few minutes – can powerfully shift patterns, especially patterns around chronic stress or “revving up” through the day. This motivational one-two is powerful: being able to taste the feeling of practice during the day, even a little, supports the aspiration to do formal practice.
    • Cultivate your sense of humor
      The mind's incredible ability to understand and mis-understand our experience is a serious business for sure. And yet it's also pretty funny. How easily we get mixed up, how quickly we fall into dumb patterns that cause us stress and grief. Feel when the “second dart” goes in and allow yourself a foolish grin. We won't be able to bull our way out of this. It's going to take humor and patience as well as taking mind-care a lot more seriously.
    • Use different practices but don't jump around too much
      When you sit down to practice (or lie down, or stand up), consider what would be helpful. Learn a “tool box” of practices – and learning a practice means you have to do it many times, ideally with some teacher feedback. Pick something helpful from your toolbox and respond to your current state. But it's also helpful at times to stick to one consistent practice through thick and thin. This is an area of discernment where teacher feedback is helpful.
    • Remember the body
      Mindfulness isn't just in the head. Include the body and care for the body as part of the practice.
    • Notice other choices that support - or undermine - daily practice
      Back up from the point of sitting down to practice and see what seems to support or hinder. Do you go to bed on time? What is your relationship with alcohol/drugs? Are you taking on more than is reasonable at work or in family or friend obligations? Where is there tension and holding during your daily routine? Are you exercising? Eating well? The decision point for early morning practice, for example, is not in the early morning - it's in the choices we make the day before that set us up for following through or making it harder.


  • 1 May 2018 11:43 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Richard Johnson

    Types of Practice

    As you contemplate putting together your own ongoing mindfulness practice, you might consider these three building blocks: (1) formal practice on your own, (2) group formal practice, and (3) informal practice.

    Group Practice: You can experience group meditation in our mindfulness classes and there are meditation groups meeting regularly in the Northwest - see our Community page for some suggestions. You may find that your formal and informal practice are aided by joining one of these groups. You might also be able to join together with friends and form a simple practice group of your own also.

    Levels of Practice

    Check out this list of levels of practice to see what’s best for you:

    Platinum: daily formal practice 20 or more minutes, and informal practice, and weekly group practice.

    Gold: daily formal practice of 5-15 minutes, and informal practice.

    Silver: daily formal practice for a few minutes, and some informal practice.

    A real step forward: informal practice as often as possible.

    Putting together your own practice

    We who teach mindfulness value formal and informal practice. We see how the one supports the other. But we know that many of us don’t feel we have the time for formal practice. It is true that the combination of a demanding work schedule and family life can leave very little time to devote to yourself. But you may have a habitual way of thinking is preventing you from practicing, a mindset that “there’s no time for me.” We invite you to explore this mindfully. Even a few minutes of formal practice daily can be very helpful. You might especially look at transitions between major activities (work and home, say) and whether your downtime activities are truly nourishing.

    The beauty of informal practice is that it takes no extra time. Only remembering to pay attention to whatever’s happening in and around you. Many former participants in our courses report that informal practice, even without formal practice, gives them a helpful opportunity to pause and come back to the present moment again and again. Informal practice alone is A Real Step Forward. 

    For some suggestions on keeping up the formal practice at home see the essay “Maintaining a Daily Practice” on the website.

    Wishing you well as you come up with what works for you, and reminding you that we change over time. Just be open, and who knows what the future will offer you?


  • 1 Apr 2018 11:46 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Oori Silberstein

    The fundamental question of Mindfulness is what is happening in this moment?  Asking this question sincerely in any moment has the potential to create space and choice in moments of difficulty and stress. Mindfulness practice can turn stressful moments into moments of relaxation and relief. And over time, with regular practice and patience, mindfulness can be fundamentally transformative and healing.  But sometimes challenging and difficult emotions are larger than our mindfulness in the moment and we need something more.  

    Finding our balance amidst strong emotions like sadness, self-judgment, grief, anger, shame, embarrassment, negative mood, depression or anxiety (to name a few) often takes more than simple mindfulness in the moment. This is true for everybody, from relative beginners to seasoned meditation teachers.  At such times, therapeutic intervention with a professional can be an excellent and beneficial thing to do. I myself have benefitted greatly from therapy at various times throughout my 18 years as a meditator.  

    Bringing in kindness
    Giving and receiving

    In our personal practice, when encountering and trying to navigate our way through difficult experiences and feelings, it is extremely helpful to learn how to bring kindness and care to ourselves in a genuine and effective way.  And this is what the practice of Mindful Self-Compassion, or MSC, offers.  In the same way that Mindfulness helps us access and strengthen the mind’s natural capacity to be present and wise, MSC helps us access and strengthen the heart’s natural capacity to be kind and caring.

    Meeting difficulty or stress with kindness is what we mean by compassion.   Can you think of a time when someone was there for you in a moment of difficulty without trying to change you or fix you?  Perhaps a teacher, a good friend or a grandparent-type figure who just let you be how you were in the moment of difficulty?  When someone is genuinely kind and accepting towards us in the midst of our difficulty it can be very supportive and healing. 

    In addition to feeling compassion from others we can also feel it towards others. For example, when we see a small child fall and get hurt our heart may naturally respond with care and kindness.  Compassion is a natural movement of our heart when we are relaxed and seeing clearly.

    Mindful Self-Compassion teaches us how to combine these two natural instincts, of giving and receiving compassion, in a way that strengthens our ability to navigate difficult emotions.  It uses mindfulness to notice when we are experiencing difficulty, and gives us tools to access our own capacity to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves in such moments. 

    If all of this sounds a bit awkward, or even a bit unbelievable, you are not alone.  Most of us have been taught negative myths about self-kindness.  I was personally quite skeptical of this practice initially.  I did not believe I could really befriend myself in a satisfying and genuine way.  “That only happens when the friend is another person” I thought.  And I went to MSC class with lots of doubts and reasons why it was wrong or impossible to do this.   But what I learned, with the support of a good teacher, was that I am capable of offering myself exactly the kind of support and compassion I need.  And MSC has become a central part of my practice and daily life.  When mindfulness asks What is happening in this moment and the answer is that we are experiencing difficulty, we can then ask the fundamental question of MSC: What do I need in this moment?  And with the skills and practices of MSC, we learn to give ourselves exactly what we need in moments of difficulty, in a way that is genuinely satisfying and healing.  

  • 16 Mar 2018 12:02 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    Many mindfulness teachers (including ours) consider compassion the "other wing of mindfulness." Mindfulness helps create the space in which compassion can arise; and an emphasis on compassion can help "warm up" mindfulness into something we might call "heartfulness."

    The body of evidence is larger for “regular” mindfulness (that taught in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes), but the scientific support for the benefits of practicing compassion is compelling.

    For starters, the benefits of Loving-Kindness practices appear pretty quickly, and have staying power: greater empathy towards others, greater generosity, greater resilience in emotionally fraught situation. For another, Loving-Kindness practices show real promise in the treatment of PTSD and other traumas.

    The basic practice

    Loving-Kindness practice falls under the category of “cultivation practices,” where imagery and poetry are used to cultivate a desirable trait. In this case, you bring to mind the image of another being, which might be yourself, and wish them well by repeating phrases of goodwill silently to yourself. Example phrases are:

    May you (I, we) be happy and joyful

    May you (I, we) feel safe and secure

    May you (I, we) be strong and healthy

    May you (I, we) live with ease

    Variations

    The classic sequence is to start with someone (or thing) very dear to you, spend a couple of minutes wishing them well using the above or your own phrases, then picture someone less close but friendly and do the same, then repeat with a neutral party, then (if you’re up for it) picking someone you have a difficult relationship and repeating the process for them.

    Another (the you-we-I sequence) starts with a dear one, then you add yourself to the image and do a “We” sequence a few times, then bid your dear one goodbye and wish yourself well with a few “I” sequences.

    Guided meditations

    There is a large variety of compassion practices (including the above) on our website, and on Insight Timer.


  • 22 Feb 2018 11:49 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    From an article by the Greater Good Science Center

    Gratitude is a recognition that:

    • There's goodness in our lives, gifts or benefits that we enjoy (and might often take for granted.
    • This goodness is often due to the actions of another person. When we're graeful, we recognize the intention and effort that went into those actions on our behalf,and the benefits they gave us.

      Research shows that: 

    • Gratefulness increases happiness and life satisfaction.
    • Grateful people are more resilient to stress.
    • Grateful people get along better with others.
    • Grateful people are less depressed.
    • Grateful people achieve more.
    • Grateful people are more helpful and generous.

    Gratitude meditations on Insight Timer: 

    There are quite a few - here are two to get your started:
    Gratitude Meditation (14 min) by Sarah McLean
    Peaceful and Relaxed (15 min): Gratitude Meditation by Mellisa Dormoy


  • 16 Jan 2018 12:01 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    The basic practice

    After settling into your meditation posture, begin to pay attention to the sounds arriving to your ears. You'll probably be focused on the loud, intense sounds at first, but gradually see if you can make room in your awareness for all the softer sounds as well. And sounds in the distance as well as sounds nearby. 

    You'll probably notice right away that your mind has a natural tendency to immediately hijack the listening process. It might label the sounds you're hearing (sound of car driving by), and then attach a story of some kind (that driver is going really fast), express a preference (I wish the traffic were quieter), or bring forth a memory (reminds me of my old Volvo).

    Simply notice these mental efforts as they occur, and realize that by capturing your awareness they probably didn't allow you to hear the next sounds that came up. See if you can gently return your awareness to the sounds themselves - their timber, their pitch, their volume. Pure sounds, without analysis or judgment.

    As your mind relaxes you may find that your awareness of the soundscape becomes richer and more varied, that many seemingly simple sounds are in fact made up of many tiny sound effects occurring together.

    Listening Meditation by Tim Burnett

    On our website: Listening Meditation

    This meditation is also on Insight Timer: search on Mindfulness Northwest

  • 1 Jan 2018 11:50 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    There's plenty of research showing that sustained practice over time yields the most benefits to the practitioner. No real surprise there. And there's nothing (for most of us) like a regular group/community to provide us with the support, motivation and accountability to keep our home practice going.

    Here are some groups that meet regularly (or soon will);

    Bellingham area:

    Free Drop-in class: Meets Thursday evenings starting February 1st. Mostly practice, with some instruction. Suitable for beginners. Click here for more.

    Other groups: Check our website for more: Mindfulness Practice in Bellingham.

    Seattle area: There are quite a few Mindfulness groups that meet regularly and are free. More information on our website: Mindfulness Practice in Seattle.


  • 15 Dec 2017 11:59 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    The basic practice:

    While meditating, when you notice that your mind has wandered off, pause and notice where your mind has gone, giving that place a brief label. This label can be simple to begin with: "Thinking" "Strong Sensation" "Daydreaming." What tends to captivate your mind the most? 

    As your labeling practice strengthens, you can consider allowing your labeling to become more refined: "Envying" "Disliking" "Reliving" "Future-tripping" "Fearing." 

    It's easy to get judgmental about how and where our mind wanders. It can be helpful to remember that wandering is what the mind was designed to do. It's not about fixing the wandering, but becoming more aware of it.

    This can be particularly helpful as we take the labeling practice off the cushion and into life. Then we can add some curiosity about when the wandering has been helpful or not. Sometimes it is.

    "A note on Noting" by Stephen Levine: On our Learning blog

    Meditations on Insight Timer:

    Noting your emotions by Kristin Neff (of Mindful Self-Compassion fame)

    Mental Noting by mPeak

    Mental Noting Practice by Mindspace

    And this one is an Open Awareness practice, but Tim incorporates a Labeling practice within it:

    Open Awareness by Mindfulness Northwest


  • 1 Dec 2017 11:52 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    One way we can expand and deepen our secular mindfulness and compassion practices is by exploring the Buddhist roots from which they grew. The basic secular practices are generally described in terms of modern science. The Buddhist roots go back 2,500 years, and can provide a lot of depth and nuance simply not available in the secular texts.

    As you may know, Tim (Burnett, Mindfulness Northwest guiding teacher) and his co-leaders have been exploring these roots at our longer retreats for a couple of years. Some of these "Roots" talks can be found on our website: https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/roots.

    For a broader dive, there is a nice library of Dharma Talks by Tim (as Guiding Teacher of the Red Cedar Zen Community) and visiting Zen Priests on the Red Cedar Zen Community website: https://www.redcedarzen.org/Dharma-Talks.

    An update on the science

    Not to diminish the importance of the growing body of science supporting our mindfulness practices! There are a couple of articles in the current Lion's Roar magazine on "what we know and what we don't" - a look at which of the more than 6,000 research papers on mindfulness really stand on solid ground. One of those is available on the Greater Good website: The State of Mindfulness Science. 


  • 15 Nov 2017 11:57 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    Sitting Practice

    You can divide meditation practices into two categories based on what is in the foreground and what is in the background of the mind:

    Concentration Practice:  We hold a single object (the breath, body sensations, sounds) clearly in the foreground with all other sensory (including mental) objects in the background.

    Open Awareness Practice: Allow objects to arise into the foreground, be observed, and drop back into the background without judging, choosing or clinging to any of them. 

    You can find a nice set of guided concentration practices, and one open awareness practice on our website here: Sitting Meditation


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