The Most Difficult Thing in the World

As I build a meditation habit I am becoming more and more convinced that we have very little control over who we are and what we do.

Most of the time we are on auto-pilot driven by a brain that has become so conditioned by our habitual behaviour that it has become self directing. We simply keep running on our own little hamster wheel turning it over again and again without even knowing it’s there.

An important finding in Neurology is that the brain learns through experience, it wires itself. This ability is called plasticity and it is how our habits and habitual behaviour become hard wired in our brain.

We are all programmed at birth with human needs and desires, it’s how our species survive. We also live in a technical world driven by an ever increasing level of distraction. The choices we make are driven at a subconscious level by our desires and distractions and as a consequence they wire a brain that repeats and reinforces the same behaviour. Slowly and surely we construct our own small hamster wheel making it more and more rigid.

Is it any wonder that Jon Kabat Zinn believes;

one of the most difficult things in the world, if not the most difficult thing in the world for us human beings to do, is to be present in our own lives, and to be kind and less judgmental of ourselves. That’s why it’s worth doing. It’s worth practicing.

Mindfulness is the Art of being present in our own lives, it’s the quality of nonjudgmental awareness.

If we can accept that we have a brain that we have spent the entirety of our lives reinforcing into its present state, then we can be more compassionate and realistic about how difficult it is for us to change.

What is most encouraging is that the same ability of the brain to wire itself through experience allows us to rewire it through the self directed practice of mindfulness.

In so doing we can achieve what Jon Kabat Zinn  explains as:

Which means we have a lot more freedom to transform our organism, and our life experience, and attain some degree of profound well-being and satisfaction than what we ever thought.

What that means for me is, “the most difficult thing in the world” is well worth doing. Even if it means picking myself up and dusting myself down every time I fall off the wagon, which seems to happen a lot.

If only there was a safety belt to keep me mindful. But there isn’t!

The Most Difficult Thing in the World

Mindfulness Summit Report – Rick Hanson


I loved Rick Hanson’s interview. His personality shone through as engaging, charming, and fun and his message was eloquent, erudite and powerful.

His most powerful message is that we need to respect the power of the cave man brain and accept that our brain is extremely vulnerable to ignition of the ‘Ancient fires of craving’. Rick explains that craving is caused by an internal sense of deficit or disturbance.

The sense of deficit or disturbance is associated with our core needs for safety, satisfaction and connection with others. We need to move from fear, frustration and heartache towards peace, contentment and love.

To achieve this people need to experience in their bones again and again that their core needs are being taken care of, otherwise the brain goes into its red zone and starts to feel threatened, dissatisfied or hurt, no matter how mindful or morally committed it is.

Rick summarizes by saying that mindfulness although necessary is not sufficient on its own. We also need to add moral commitments and a process of really, really experiencing core needs met to take fuel away from our ‘Ancient fires of craving’.

Mindfulness Summit Report – Rick Hanson

And what of the Soul?

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an Hour

William Blake

Our Universe is 14 billion years old and within the visible part there are 140 billion galaxies. Our own little planet arrived on the scene 4.5 billion years ago and then about 4 billion years ago a miracle happened.


It has taken a long time, but for the last 100,000 years our own particular species has been wandering the Earth and at the last count there are over 7 billion of us alive.

Each of us starts our life journey when a single cell splits into two and by the time we are born we have reached 140 trillion cells. Remarkably, every single cell carries a complete blue print of exactly who and what we are.

Our experience of life comes through five senses which allow us to see the reds and golds of Autumn, to hear a little robin singing as night turns to dawn, to feel the caress of a cool summer breeze on our cheek, to taste chocolate and mint in a peppermint cream, and to smell the smoke and sweetness of a turf fire.

Our greatest gift is consciousness, our thoughts and thinking, and it is through our mind that we experience the world. Yet anyone who has watched their thoughts for more than a few minutes will know that they are fleeting and chaotic.

But it is our emotions that give our life color and intensity, and as I read the stories of my fellow bloggers I begin to understand quite how intense those emotions are; despair and grief, love and laughter.

10,000 years ago at the dawn of civilization our ancestors must have been very similar to us in their thoughts and their emotions and how they experienced the world. It is astonishing that the great works of philosophy and religion appeared around the world 3,000 years ago, long before the internet and WordPress.

And yet do we not still struggle with the same challenges and mysteries?

The same emotions that make us feel so alive can also leave us feeling powerless when suffering arrives. Our thoughts and feelings can become so overwhelming, and yet we bottle them up and feel isolated in a society that values silence and secrets.

If we consider the fragility of our mortality can we ever comprehend eternity?

How do we begin to understand where this complex and vibrant world came from?

Do we pause to think about the complexity of our bodies and the vastness of the Universe?

Is there a God? Did any of our religions get it right? Does it matter? Does it change anything?

And what of the soul?

Does it exist?

And if it does, then far more importantly, how do we nourish it?

And what of the Soul?

The Bowl of Mindfulness


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At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.

Lao Tzu

If mindfulness has a purpose, it is to find calm. It is the way back to our center, to the place of inner peace that lies within us all.

This is not an easy path. Most of the time mindfulness will only make us aware of how far we have wandered from our center. We will see the shadows of suffering cast by the distractions, bad habits and addictions that have grown within us.

But until we recognize and accept our life as it is, we cannot begin the journey back to our center, to our place of inner calm.

Mindfulness is like a bowl, it is both what the bowl is and what the bowl does.

The bowl is nonjudgmental awareness, an ability to watch our thoughts, words and actions without judging them, to become an impartial observer of ourselves.

What the bowl does is to hold our thoughts, words, and actions in this state of nonjudgmental awareness and allows them to marinate.

Meditation is the intentional practice of mindfulness where we sit without distraction for a set period of time. However, this formal practice of meditation can be both a barrier and a limitation in developing a mindfulness practice.

After all we are human and the routine of a busy working day leaves few of us with either the time or the inclination for formal meditation practice.

Instead we can aim for a few nutritional mindfulness snacks throughout the day. Not only will this help us to develop mindfulness, but it gives us a few precious moments to pause, refocus and allow the dust of the day to settle.

In a busy and demanding working day I have found three simple mindfulness practices.

Commas, full stops, and carriage returns. If every day is a page, then it has no definition without commas to add a pause, full stops to take a break, and carriage returns to end one activity and begin another.

We actively need to punctuate our day if we are to prevent it from becoming one long mad blur. I visit a couple of times a day while I’m at work This takes me for a few wonderful minutes to a distant beach to watch the sun setting, or to dawn in a misty forest to listen to the dawn chorus.

A Walk. There is no better way to draw a line under one part of the day and prepare ourselves for the next than a walk.

Something happens when we step outside the door, context returns and we become part of something bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it’s the sound of the world getting on with its own business without a care for us. Whatever it is, it usually brings perspective and well-being back into our lives.

A deep breathe. In yoga and meditation, the breath lies at the center of mindfulness. We have access to it at any time and in any situation. In the words of Thich Nhat Hahn, “When we breathe in a miracle happens, we stop the thinking. This is the miracle of mindfulness”.

These three simple practices all have one thing in common, they create a pause in the day, a gap in which we can fill our bowl of mindfulness with precious moments.

It doesn’t matter how we develop mindfulness. What matters is that we find our own way back to our center, to reclaim the inner calm that nourishes our very soul.

What path do you take?

The Bowl of Mindfulness

On Suffering and Boomerangs


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If suffering brings wisdom, I should wish to be less wise.

William Butler Yeats

It’s a little known fact, but one of the biggest causes of suffering is from accidental boomerang strikes.

Let me elaborate on what I mean here.

This is when we get hit in the head by a boomerang we threw, but at the time we didn’t know it was a boomerang and we certainly didn’t know it was going to come back and smack us on the head.

In that sacred of all self development books, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Franklin Covey reminds us, “When we pick up one end of a stick, we pick up the other”. In other words, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.”

A boomerang is a stick we would have been better off leaving well alone. Here are four causes of accidental boomerang strikes.

The Sands of Distraction. In this connected world we are constantly bombarded by distractions; newspapers, radio, television, computers, tablets, smartphones, they are simply unavoidable.

Once distraction gets into our mind it soon clogs up our focus and attention. Its not so much that distraction is bad, its the fact that it takes over and before we know it the tail is wagging the dog.

This is a mild form of boomerang strike, but nevertheless we usually come out of it dazed, and disappointed at the hours we’ve lost.

Fatal Attraction. This is distraction with hooks, it comes in many different forms, want and desire being the most common. This is where our inner angel meets our dastardly inner devil.

It’s the human condition, and fighting it is like taking a tricycle up against a steamroller. Its the slippery slope that leads to all our bad habits and addictions and yet we constantly underestimate the beauty and draw of the siren song.

Attraction can be a particularly painful boomerang strike especially if it leaves us with that that most horrid of all feelings, #despair.

The Niggle. This is the self propelled boomerang that keeps coming back and clipping us on the head, again and again. It can be experienced as an underlying feeling of irritation, anxiety or dissatisfaction. I often experience it as a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Often the cause isn’t always apparent. However, deep down there is a persistent little voice reminding us of a belief we hold that conflicts with reality. Until we accept reality and let go of the belief, we will remain in the flight path of that circling boomerang.

Procrastination. Procrastination is like getting hit by a boomerang that we never threw in the first place. In that sense it’s hard to imagine it as painful, yet not doing something because we feel blocked is a particularly painful and frustrating experience.

So if like Yeats and you wish to to be less wise, then at the very least before you pick up a stick, make sure its not a boomerang that will just come back and wallop you.

On Suffering and Boomerangs

Why mindfulness?


What we think, we become

The Buddha

Mindfulness is defined as nonjudgmental awareness, but what does this mean?

It’s the ability to be aware without the instinctive need to attach our opinion or feeling to the experience. Its developing the skill to become an impartial observer of our thoughts, senses, and experiences.

Here are six reasons why mindfulness is important.

1. To change. The Holy Grail of all personal development blogs, books, and courses is the ability to change ourselves. So many of us seek to become happier, healthier and wealthier, yet even the smallest change is elusive and remains just beyond our grasp. In contrast, change is not an objective of mindfulness, indeed a core principle of mindfulness is to stop our incessant striving. We are always running after one thing or running away from another. Paradoxically, when we stop striving and find stillness, metamorphosis begins.

2. To learn to live with ourselves. Do you live with an underlying dissatisfaction of your life, a sense that if only a few things could change then it would be much happier and more fulfilling? This sense of dissatisfaction is real, it has a bitter taste, it sits heavily on our stomach. It can weigh us down even when there is no apparent cause. In developing mindfulness we learn acceptance, gratitude and compassion. These three gifts dissolve dissatisfaction and can bring joy.

3. To heal our wounds. As we go through life we pick up physical and emotional knocks and bruises. The truth is that few of us make it far through life without experiencing pain and hurt. These experiences stay with us, we keep them in our scrapbook of slights and injustices. Emotional pain can often be felt as acutely years after the event as it was felt at the time. Mindfulness is a tool for dealing with suffering. It’s a poultice that we can apply to a physical or emotional wound. It allows us to experience it as it is, and by bringing our attention to pain we softens its intensity and create the conditions for healing to occur.

4. To deal with distractions, habits & addictions. The smartphone in our pocket is a means of instant communication and information, but it can also be a source of constant distraction. When we repeat distractions we form habits, and habits that are out of control become addictions. The fight for our online attention is now a trillion dollar business. It’s no wonder that every form of psychological trick is used to hook and hold our attention. What is more scary is that we are unaware of the traps that are set for us. Mindfulness can bring us to a place of stillness, a respite from the constant distraction of our modern, technical world.

5. To discover who we are. In many ways who we are is hidden from us. We can look out but rarely do we look back in at ourselves. We can describe in detail our friend’s personalities and their endearing and annoying quirks, but can we describe our own? It is remarkable that the person we know least about is often ourselves. By becoming an impartial observer of our thoughts, words, actions and feelings we begin to get glimpses of our true self. Not who we think we are, but who we truly are.

6. To live another life. There is another life out there waiting for us. It’s much simpler and involves a lot less doing. It requires us to find moments of stillness throughout the day. It means learning to just be and this is much more difficult than we can possibly imagine. For thousands of years the way to this alternative life is to simply wake up. Mindfulness helps to open our eyes to a richer, peaceful and more fulfilling life.

Why mindfulness?

The Media meets Mindfulness

Meet CNN’s Anderson Cooper in this twelve minute clip from the 60 minutes TV show.

You almost feel embarrassed for him as he joins a weekend Mindfulness retreat to experience sitting, eating, and walking, in mindful silence.

“Is this just some New Age Gobbledygook?” he asks Jon Kabat Zinn, who leads the retreat.

“I miss my cellphone”, he quips as all technology is surrendered at the start of the retreat.

Now, here is the really entertaining bit, almost like an out-take at the end of a comedy.

It’s a behind the scenes retrospective from the 60 minutes overtime show as Anderson admits he drank the Kool-Aid, and it changed his life!

“Its a little disappointing to get your cell phone back. It’s the last thing you really want to see again”.

“I was totally skeptical”.

“I realized, sitting in that meditation hall…. this is exactly what I need”

“The thing that really stuck with me from this meditation retreat is….it’s just returning to your breath.”

“It’s not another thing you have to add to your list of things to do….. it’s just being……and… you know… we’re not used to just… kinda being!

The Media meets Mindfulness