I have had the good fortune and privilege to go on mediation retreats with some outstanding
teachers over the last few years. I make the time in my often busy life to take regular time out by
going on ‘retreat’, an opportunity to reflect on where I am at in my life, my learning, and my sense of
service. A chance to deepen my practice, to add another layer, or rather unpeel another layer, and
get a sense of direction to take me forward. It is also often an opportunity to meet some good
friends, catch up on their news, share their journey, and learn together.
I know people often find it difficult to contemplate taking time out away from family and job commitments, but I actually know of few other ways as effective to enable embracing your life just exactly where it is at right now, right here, and bringing this sense back to relationships, family and work to then enrich them. Not selfish but self-full, a filling up of ones self to be able to contribute fully and joyfully.
So I thought some teaching snippets from my recent retreat with Ian Gawler might help others over
this busy, often stressful, end of year period. I think some of the terms like “Thinking Mind” and “Still
Mind” should be familiar to most people who have come to one of my meditation courses.
1. The Thinking Mind is clearly responsible for all we do and it is heavily influenced by our
unconscious. The dualistic nature of the thinking mind deals with opposites. It is very
interested in the subject, as its primary purpose is to keep the subject safe, happy,
comfortable and content. It is however pretty ignorant on what will actually make us happy
and is very heavily influenced by the culture it is surrounded by. What this means is that our
thinking mind is driven by the goal of short term happiness, even when looking for
happiness outside ourselves is actually pretty tenuous. For lasting happiness we have to look
at the inner state. An untrained mind puts you at the whim of the forces around you. A
trained mind in contrast can by used.
2. The Still Mind, is beyond the activity of the Thinking Mind, ie beyond thought. Stillness has 3
There is nothing permanent, lasting or enduring in it. It is however not a void. It is like an
Awareness or Cogniscence – the capacity to know or be aware. It is not a dream like
The natural expression that arises out of this state is compassion and love.
imminent force or unlimited potential, and everything that is solid comes out of there.
sleep, but very vivid.
- Compassion – wishing that all beings be free of suffering and free from the
- Love – wishing that all beings be happy and experience the cause of lasting
- Enlightenment – is about having a pure perception of the Truth. It is a
cause of suffering
happiness. The definition of lasting happiness is Enlightenment.
spectrum, not an on-off switch.
3. With stillness of the Mind, there is an inner balance, stability and contentment that comes
with it that makes everyday living more enjoyable and useful. It allows us to get back to our
natural balance, or our default state. The human body and psyche is designed to work really
well, to be in good health, with a content and balanced mind. Lots of healing capacities are
present in the body to regain health, and similarly the mind has a natural state of being that
is curious, engaged and joyful. The more we relax and meditate the more these natural
qualities reassert themselves. There is no duality in that state, but a strong sense of
interconnectedness and union, of being at one with everything. It also has a sense of being
an inner refuge. There is nothing there that can get damaged.
4. Recognising that the function of the thinking mind is to produce thought is helpful and that
it is the natural state of the mind (like the function of the sky is to produce clouds, and if it
didn’t do so we would have a drought). So the question is what do we do with the thoughts?
So be aware of the thoughts, use them to advantage and be not disadvantaged by them. The
disadvantage of thoughts nearly always comes when you react to them.
5. Posture is one of the elements that supports a meditative practice but sitting in any posture
for any length of time will get uncomfortable. So there is an element of becoming
comfortable with discomfort. Tips for dealing with discomfort:
Quit and maybe do something else or have a short break
Relax into it
Subtle movement, almost imperceptible, but don’t get into a habit with this.
Breathe into the discomfort
Use understanding of pain to be free of it. Pain is based on a physical sensation that is
Appreciate that pain doesn’t last forever. This can lead to acceptance and letting go
6. He talked about the “Western Adaptive” style of posture, where the
then interpreted by our mind. It is then possible to drop the reaction and get into the
physical sensation which is not hurtful of its own nature. If you experience it as a raw
sensation then it becomes interesting.
- Posture should have a sense of symmetry about it
- An intention of being still in that posture
- An element of slight discomfort. If you are too comfortable, it can really relax the
body, but it does not necessarily still the mind. With some discomfort you have to
use the mind to get past the discomfort. Discomfort can become an ally and friend
rather than a hindrance.
Lying down is not recommended due to the risk of falling asleep, being stressed when meditating is
however not useful for healing and wellbeing. So lying on a harder surface and not in bed
(associations of sleep) can then be really useful when dealing with illness. Also have the intention at
the start of the meditation of not moving.
I leave you with a final snippet to contemplate as the year draws to a close:
7. How to develop the discipline of regular meditation? Regularly thinking about death can
help. What would today have meant, or what meaning has this day, if I died tomorrow?
Maybe not the most cheerful of thoughts, but it does focus the mind and intention.
I am contemplating running a short weekend meditation retreat next year, probably after
April, and would like some feedback on who would be interested in attending this.
Wishing you all joy, peace, and time for relaxation and meditation over the summer season.
From my heart to your heart, Britta