Waking Up From Grasping

Obsessively grasping for something or someone leads us down the path to distress or suffering if we’re not mindful. Here’s to becoming aware of it in thoughts and actions, and letting go by simply observing and moving the attention back to the breath, and becoming more discerning of where we should be paying attention. The quality of our lives depends on where our attention is. There’s no need to grasp.

As Basho, the Zen monk says:

Sitting silently,

Doing nothing,

Spring comes and grass grows by itself.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Image credit: Piotr Musiol, Unsplash

Conscious Breathing

The breath represents life, it’s the first thing we do when we become a life. Being conscious of the breath also has the benefit of activating the parasympathetic nervous system that restores us to equilibrium and calms us down.

It’s also possible that the breath can be triggering. If you find it difficult to focus on the breath, just do the best you can as an observer, bringing to bear just an intention to observe and nothing else.

Breathing (extract), Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing in,
I have become space
without boundaries.
I have no plans left.
I have no luggage.

Breathing out,
I am the moon
that is sailing through the sky of utmost emptiness.
I am freedom.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Image credit: Erik Jan Leusink, Unsplash

Thoughts Are Like The Wind

Thoughts such as judgments, beliefs, and assumptions are transient, impermanent, and mental events. The invitation is to simply observe our thoughts, and not get hooked, believe or act on everything that the mind suggests, and instead to practise

The Windy Day, Annette Wynne

The wind was very bad that day,

It blew my brand new hat away,

It blew and blew and blew—

It should have found some better things to do.

Perhaps the sailor on the sea

Wanted that wind that pestered me,

But the wind just stayed around and blew

My things about. When he was through

He went and hid himself away

And never came again that day.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Image credit: Alvan Nee, Unsplash

Above The Noise

This is a practice of decoupling or de-centering from mental chatter, and viewing thinking as a mental event. It’s often not easy as our thoughts are so compelling and urgent, requiring us to act on them immediately, in the process exhausting us. Here we develop our capacity to observe and let go of the need to answer back or to react toward our thoughts. The practice ends with a reading of Robert Frost’s poem The Sound of Trees (extract).

Here’s the full poetry. 

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 20 minutes

Image credit: Erica Leong, Unsplash


Meeting Anxiety

This practice is about meeting anxiety as and when it arises. Anxiety is often characterized by a fast beating heart, sweaty palms, and maybe throbbing pain in the head. The feelings seem unpleasant, naturally compelling us to want to push them away or to get rid of them. By giving in to this reaction, we are merely avoiding and allowing anxiety to have a grip over us. We are not learning how to respond skillfully to difficulties.

The invitation is to allow ourselves to witness whatever that is arising by pausing from judging, staying as still as we can (not needing to react), and staying with the experience (not needing to run away, distract ourselves or zone out). If the feelings are overwhelming, we approach by dipping our toes and homing in slowly, as best as we can seeing anxious feelings as transient (even if they seem to last forever or they’re recurrent), and as merely outcomes of the mind and body (even if they seem so real). They do not define our identity, they are simply experiences, and we can choose how to respond to them. The response can be not to do anything but simply to just observe and embrace all life experiences as they are.

Poetry for today is Between Going & Staying, by Octavio Paz (translated).

Between going and staying the day wavers,

in love with its own transparency.

The circular afternoon is now a bay

where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,

all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,

rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples

repeats the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall

into a ghostly theater of reflections. I

find myself in the middle of an eye,

watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,

I stay and go: I am a pause.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 19 minutes

Image credit: Chaiyaporn Atakampeewong, Unsplash

Noticing Intentions

In the midst of our busy-ness, moving from one thing to another on our to-do list, it is easy to forget what our intentions are or could be. Being mindful of them helps us stay true to our values and lead a more meaningful life instead of a zombie one. So this is a meditation about practicing observing our intentions before we do anything such as taking an inbreath or out-breath. Refining our capacity to just pause for a moment before acting.

Ending this with one of my favourite poems, Summer Day by Mary Oliver (extract): 

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration:

Image credit: Koen Eijkelenboom, Unsplash

I Am Here, No Action Needed

Here’s a meditation about sitting in the present moment and in stillness regardless how we’re feeling. Telling ourselves, “I do not have all the answers but I am here”, “It feels unpleasant but no action is needed”.

Inviting ourselves time and time again that we can acknowledge all of what we are feeling yet not have to react and rise to the bait of all feelings. It may be difficult to do so. We take it step by step but dipping our toes in slowly.

Inspiration sought from the poem The Invitation by the Oriah Mountain Dreamer (excerpt):

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes‘.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 20 mins

Image credit: Anastasiia Rozumna, Unsplash

To attend our live meditation sessions, register here

Feeling Tone

Feeling tone or feeling sense is a sense of awareness that we typically interpret as unpleasant, pleasant or neutral. It is what puts us in a foul mood or a good one. The Pali translation in Buddhist text is “vedana”.

It is natural to desire pleasant experiences, to avoid unpleasant ones, and to zone out or feel bored, restless and even empty when there are neutral feelings (the mind constantly need stimulation). It is those underlying desires that cause us to be unhappy or stressed when things are not going according to our wishes.

The antidote is to become conscious of and to tune in to any feeling tones so that we are aware what is causing us to “suffer” in the first place. And then, we let these feelings come and go without needing to get caught up in them. We weaken the grip of reactivity, and find peace.

The practice ends with the poem On Pain by Khalil Gibran:

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.

And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 22 mins

Image credit: Tucker Good, Unsplash

Part 1: Of Mindfulness & A Masterpiece

Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1881. Image: Phillips Collection.

The painting above, Luncheon of the Boating Party is one of Renoir’s finest masterpieces, and one of his last Impressionist work. More interestingly from my perspective, it was painted using his left hand because he broke his right, but the awkward experience ended up giving him new inspiration. He wrote in a letter to a patron: “It’s even better than what I did with the right (hand). I think that was a good thing that I broke my arm. It allows me to make progress.”

That’s the essence of the program I teach, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)—giving ourselves permission to respond in new ways to difficulties instead of falling back on the security of our habitual “doing” tendencies. In the process learning new wisdom.  

Q: What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about intentionally paying attention to the present moment with non-judgement. We pay attention to what is arising on the outside such as smell, and in our inner world: thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, impulses to act, and feeling-tones. We assume a sense of equanimity, which means staying engaged and accepting whatever that has arisen or is arising without needing to like nor dislike the experience. It is aided by bringing to bear the attitude of a beginner’s mind or curiosity, and kindness or friendliness. By doing so, the mind is more steady and less reactive. We can be more wise in our actions and speech.

Q: What then is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?

MBCT combines mindfulness practices and cognitive therapy principles. Three psychology professors—John Teasdale (Cambridge), Mark Williams (Bangor, now Oxford), and Zindel Segal (Toronto)—developed MBCT with the aim of providing a non-drug alternative to reducing depression relapses. This was in the 1990s. MBCT is approved by NHS England and is now also widely taught to the general population to deal with stress and to flourish. Together with MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), MBCT is considered a gold standard secular mindfulness program because they are evidence-based, and observe rigorous teaching standards. 

MBCT starts off by learning to switch out of autopilot and to ground ourselves. Henceforth we are more awake, anchored and less automatically derailed by triggers. We remain guided by our values, and have more capacity to be calm, compassionate and resilient.

Cognitive therapy is widely used by psychologists to help clients become aware of how their thoughts and feelings drive behavior. Here we appreciate that thoughts and feelings are simply outcomes of the mind and body processes. They are outside our locus of control, they are impermanent and innocuous. Hence, instead of striving to get rid of thoughts and feelings which had already arisen eg anxiety, we stay in the present moment and focus our energy on what we can do, which is forging a kind relationship toward them. Eventually anxiety reduces its grip. 

All this sounds easy and logical but when we are caught in the heat of the moment, we easily lose sight of this wisdom. That’s why we practice mindfulness frequently to allow the mind to unlearn and learn new habits. I am learning this every day!

Q: Is MBCT about just letting it be, not progressing and changing our circumstances? 

Generally, our default reaction to difficulties is to “do something” eg ruminate, blame others, avoid, suppress, neutralize with positive thoughts (even if they are untrue or unvalidated), or to keep ourselves busy and distracted. We can’t help ourselves! Mindfulness calls for a different response of non-doing. Something far less exhausting.

The invitation is to connect directly with our inner world experiences (as opposed to analyzing them in our head), to practice letting go of the need to get rid of or to fix unwanted experiences, and to accept our humanity its warts and all. This creates conditions for us to be more flexible and to see a bigger perspective rather than be ruled by our “lizard brain”. So we are on a more steady footing to decide our next course of action instead of habitually launching into avoiding, distracting, and running around in circles. 

Q: Is MBCT or mindfulness religious-based?

MBCT is adapted from MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and adds to it the understanding of cognitive therapy. Jon Kabat Zinn started a stress reduction clinic and developed MBSR at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1970s. His work is influenced by his yoga and Buddhist practices of calm, compassion and insight by simply accepting the present moment as it is; and to integrate these teachings with empirical research. To date, more than a thousand studies have been done on the efficacy of mindfulness-based programs, mostly showing positive or promising results for responding to physical and mental health conditions eg stress, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.

MBSR/MBCT is informed by Buddhist psychology that suffering eg unhappiness is due to cravings and aversions formed by our non-discerning (unwholesome) judgements. But MBCT/MBSR is not Buddhism per se because it does not prescribe core Buddhism beliefs of rebirth and karma. 

It should also be noted that mindfulness and meditation are mentioned in all mainstream religions. They just differ in purpose. For Christians, the centre of awareness is God while Buddhism is about achieving enlightenment (nibbana) that requires a high level of concentration.

MBCT/MBSR is about practicing equanimity and kindness in responding to life. The anchor is whatever that is available such as sound. MBCT/MBSR program is therefore universal and secular. It is about uncovering the masterpiece within us.

For more info about my MBCT course, see 8-Week Mindfulness (Jul-Aug) here

Feel free to join my talk on the Art & Science of Mindfulness to get more details about how MBCT works. On Wed, 26 May, 7:30 – 8:30pm MYT/SGT/HKT via Zoom. Register on Eventbrite at www.bit.ly/asmindful4

Drop me a note if you have any questions or feedback: noellelimlj@gmail.com

Thanks!

Keeping Quiet, Resting The Body

During this Eid festive season, the invitation is to allow the mind to quieten and the body to rest and recharge. For those who had or will be receiving their vaccination shots for Covid-19, this mini body scan offers a helpful response to ensuing side effects like fever and body aches. Stay safe and healthy.

Inspired by Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Sitting With Time

Practicing mindfulness helps us deal with impatience because it seems like it has a relationship with time – needing things now or yesterday. A practice might seem to take forever because our minds constantly need to be stimulated and “satisfied”. It’s this constant shifting attention, always searching, never resting, that keeps us in reactionary mode. So instead of perpetually seeking stimulation and getting lost in our thoughts and stories, the invitation is to engage with the present moment differently, and to be able to just sit with the passage of time.

The inspiration of this practice came from a poetry by Rabindranath Tagore.


The butterfly counts not months but moments,

and has time enough.


Time is a wealth of change,

but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth.


Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time

like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Time: 22 minutes

Image credit: akifyevasvetlana, 123rf

Steady Mind Warm Heart

A meditation session “Steady Mind, Warm Heart”, essentially mindfulness, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem If. Seems appropriate in light of Prince Harry and Meghan Markles’ interview with Oprah.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 23 mins

Image credit: Barbel Kobus, Unsplash

If (extract), Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you      

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,   

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,   

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,      

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,   

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute   

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,      

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Appreciation

Take time off to appreciate ourselves, our inner experiences—thoughts, emotions and pain that we might be experiencing—and others even if we don’t feel like it. Inspired by Ram Dass’ writing on Trees.

“When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees.

And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever.

And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is.

You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way.

And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’

That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees.

Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 23 mins

Image credit: Yerlin Matu, Unsplash

Just This Breath

A common meditation practice is to focus on the breath. In this session, we contemplate what it really means to do so – breathing, opening to life. Breathe away.

Inspired by David Whyte’s poem Enough.

Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life

we have refused

again and again

until now.

Until now.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 22 mins

Image credit: Josh Couch, Unsplash

To register for our Wednesday Pause session at 12:30-1pm SGT on Zoom, please visit here

No Expectations

Shaped by evolution, our minds are constantly busy scanning experiences and benchmarking it to some expectation to keep us safe and feeling pleasant. Here is an invitation to drop expectations to free up space in the head in order to truly hear ourselves and access our being.

This practise is inspired by Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest’s writings, “Only An Invitation”.

Duration: 23 mins

Guide: Noelle Lim

Image credit: Kim Davies, Unsplash


Only An Invitation, Henri Nouwen

Our world is so full of conditions —

demands, requirements, and obligations

that we often wonder

what is expected of us.

But when we meet a truly free person

there are no expectations,

only an invitationto reach into ourselves

and discover there

our own freedom.

Changing Moments

Kobayashi Issa, Zen poet and scholar wrote:

This world of dew

is a world of dew

and yet, and yet.

What he wrote could be interpreted as the law of nature is as it is. Accepting and adapting to these laws, we could become more comfortable with changes and be less unhappy.

In this practise, we observe nature that is our changing experiences such as thoughts, emotions and body feelings moment-by-moment, and cultivate the capacity to accept what’s here for us like unwanted thoughts without needing to have a different experience.

Guide: Noelle Lim

Duration: 24 minutes

Image credit Sven Mieke, Unsplash

Emptying The Boat

Is there something that’s sitting on your boat that’s slowing your down? Causing you to crave or to resist? Causing unhappiness? Here’s a practice on letting go.

Duration: 25 minutes

Guide: Noelle Lim

Image credit: Natalya Erofeeva, 123rf

This is a recording of our Wednesday Pause sessions, 12:30-1pm SGT (4:30am GMT). Register here

Stillness

Finding stillness in calm. Being still puts us in a state of not always needing to react and fix, and to simply let go.

Duration: 23 minutes

Guide: Noelle Lim

Image credit: Kote Puerto, Unsplash

Something New Is Here

Our last meditation session for 2020, Something New Is Here, inspired by e.h.’s poetry. Hopefully 2021 will be kind to us. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Take down all your troubles

And wrap up your regret

Tie them to the rays of light

The sun sheds as it sets

Whisper all that was

To fleeting seconds as they pass

But hold onto your hope

For something new is here at last

Beg your own forgiveness

And then grant it in one breath

Lay the year down softly

As it waits to face its death

Then sit with eyes turned skyward

As the night-time comes alive

All that’s been is over

And a new year has arrived.