Mindful Therapy Academy

8 week group program

Taming your anxious mind

“From worry and fear to greater confidence and capability"

Week 3—Settling the mind in meditation

“Just like a glass of muddy water will settle if you don’t stir it, so too will the mind naturally settle if you leave it be”

Sogyal Rinpoche

Phase 1 of Meditation: An Overview

There were lots of exciting inroads that we made this week into our knowledge of the 4-Phases of Meditation in the Greeting Meditation. Some of the big inroads came as we recognised that in Phase 1 of the practice is just ‘landing’ in the practice, and welcoming ourselves into the space. We do this by forming a physical posture of vigilance (the straight of the back) and relaxation (the softness of the belly and shoulders). This forms the ‘outer conditions’ for the cultivation of a mental attitude that approaches much the same thing – one of alertness and relaxation.

It’s important to note that ‘relaxation’ here does not necessarily refer to a kind of enjoyable emotional state in which you feel naturally untroubled and care-free. I mean, that is good if that is what shows up, but fundamentally what we are referring to by ‘relaxation’ here it’s incarnation as a mental attitude. In this regard, relaxation as an attitude has a sense of non-striving to it. It means being at peace with things as they are. In Buddhism they describe this as a state of equanimity. Equanimity means being equally accepting of ourselves whether we are feeling focused or fragile, turbulent or tension-free. It’s not easy to be truly equanimous during rough seas, nor is it easy to have equanimity to the mentally stressed person that we often encounter in the first phase of meditation!

It is also worth noting that in this part of the practice, we are seeking to progressively “turn up” the volume in our sense of openness and presence, in which we are preparing ourselves to…

  • Practice friendship and internal atunement (Phase 2).
  • Engage in some essential mind-training practice (Phase 3)
  • Shift into Being Mode (Phase 4)

We discussed that in the early stages of Phase 1, we have to find a gentle way of bringing our attention to the breath. For this we have to help our mind ‘land’. As alluded to in the concept sheet in week 2, there is no rush with this. You have been out in the world all day, with all its distractions and difficulties. The trick here is to somehow pair an attitude of gentleness, with the discipline of being mentally alert and present. What a delicate balance this is!

In finding this balance, I find the metaphor of the puppy that we introduced this week helpful. In Phase 1 of meditation, let your puppy run free a little. Let it get that energy out. Aim to sit quietly and take an interest in your distracted mind when what is preoccupying it – in terms of thoughts, memories and feelings. Cultivate a feeling of “affection” for it as Jon Kabat Zinn says.

With this attitude of affection and patience, we will likely notice that there is a gradual settling. Sooner or later the puppy will return briefly to the ground beside us, and we ‘find the breath’. This may be for only one breath before it scurries off again. Once we have made this ‘finding’ however, we have made an important shift. Once we continue to find it with some sense of continuity (say for for 3-4 breaths), then this is our cue to move to the next phase of the practice, which is in a formal ‘sending and receiving’ part of the practice.

The meadow scene

In the Tuesday night class we introduced the idea that anxiety results in “stuck attention”. When our attention is stuck, we have a hard time getting ourselves free from worry and mental preoccupations. Use the Meadow meditation to help you practice expanding and switching your attention. This exercise guides you   to the luscious meadow scene described in this practice.