Current Events

  • Developing Mindfulness Skills To Better Understand Race

    Selection of Varied Potted Plants

    Tina Basi is a mindfulness teacher and guest lecturer on the subject of sociology at the London School of Economics, specialising in culture and technology.

     

    In developing the Introduction to Mindfulness and Racial Awareness Workshop and Racial Awareness Monthly Drop-ins, Tina has brought together two of her lifelong passions, sociology and mindfulness.

    Tina is currently researching the concept of community and the role it has played in traditional mindfulness practice, bringing to light the work that is yet to be done in contemporary western mindfulness practise. She contributed an essay on the subject of community for the Mindfulness Initiative’s publication ‘Mindfulness: Developing Agency in Urgent Times'.

     

    What motivated you to develop the Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins?

    This came out of my own experience in having challenging but necessary conversations with my own friends and communities. I found that as a woman of colour I often felt apologetic in putting my views forward or creating a conversation, and that my white friends were often very defensive and sometimes aggressive in the way that they were engaging with the conversation.

    I wanted to bring together my skills and experiences as a meditator and a teacher of mindfulness to help bring about this very necessary social change of creating racial awareness and ending racial injustice. 

     

    What do you hope participants will achieve from attending?

    I believe that being able to sit with unpleasant experiences when having discussions of race are going to be vital in progressing this period of social evolution for all of us. For all of society and for all the world.

    At the moment, there are lots of internal flashpoints when discussions of race come up and I think we understand from our studies of mindfulness that this is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) kicking in.

    What we want to do is to be able to notice the way in which terms of race trigger the SNS. We want to notice it in the same way that we do with overthinking, signs of depression or any other triggers that take us into negative spaces. 

    It’s really about cultivating an awareness and a sense of spaciousness when we’re dealing with race. 

     

    For more information about the Introduction to Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins.

     

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    What's different about the Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins?

    The workshop introduces guided meditations, exercises, discussion and theory over the course of two-hours, focusing on the subject of racial awareness.

    The monthly drop-ins are an hour long and focus on a different race-related topic each month. They offer different practices each month, such as body scans, mindful movement, seated practice, awareness of sound, etc.

    Both the workshop and drop-ins are intended to help build a community and safe space to discuss race, allowing participants to share the journey of racial awareness in a sustainable way. There is an opportnuity to share what comes up for you and a really open invitation to share how those experiences have connected with racial awareness. 

    We wouldn’t usually talk about something so thematically organised on a mindfulness course, and here we’re going to actively invite opportunities to notice, experience and then articulate anything that might connect with race, racism or racial awareness. 

     

    Are the workshop and drop-in sessions suitable for everyone? 

    Absolutely, the course is suitable for anyone. My hope is that the topic of racial awareness might bring people who have previously thought mindfulness wasn’t for them into the conversation because this is a new way of engaging with race, racial awareness and conversations of race. Mindfulness is another tool to engage, just like debate, discussion, reading, learning, seeing, watching, and hearing. 

    Please note, you do not need to do the workshop prior to joining a drop-in session. 

     

    How many people will be in the group? 

    The workshops are small groups - up to 12 people. We have found that smaller groups mean that you have the chance to connect and share with almost everyone in the group and that really does help in the articulation process.

    When the group is too big it can be a bit intimidating to share what’s come up in your practice, but in a small group there’s a sense of intimacy and trust that is built right from the outset. This makes the learning process a little smoother and softer. 

    Quite often in mindfulness we find that others are having similar thoughts and feelings, and it can help to have someone else articulate what you have been through. 

    The drop-in sessions vary from week to week, depending on how many people have signed up.

     

    What do I need to bring? 

    There’s nothing in particular you need to bring with you. If you are doing the course online, it's a good idea to tell those you are living with that you are doing the workshop or drop-in session and to find a room where you can close the door and not be disturbed for the duration. This includes not just partners, family, friends, but pets as well.

    You want to be comfortable enough that you can focus on the practice itself, but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep. For the practices themselves, you might find it handy to have a blanket, cushion for your chair and a pair of warm socks -- there’s no need to have meditation cushions or to sit on the floor, unless you want to.

    Please note, the safety and welfare of all participants is a priority for us in running the workshops and drop-in sessions. 

     

     

    For more information about the Introduction to Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins.

     

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  • How To Make Friends With Change

    If there’s one thing that can be counted on in life, it’s change. Sages, scientists and philosophers have agreed on this simple fact since time immemorial:

    “Nothing endures but change,” declared Heraclitus back in Ancient Greece.

    "All conditioned things are impermanent" said Buddha.

    “Nothing gold can stay,” wrote Robert Frost.

    A profound acceptance of this truth – that all things are impermanent – can truly transform the way we live.

    Of course, it is in our human nature to try and defy change. Left-brain thinking, which is so dominant in our culture, seeks to sweep the world into tidy boxes -- filing and ordering life to give it more permanence, security and familiarity. But to do this also goes contrary to the truth – that the present is living, in flux, and therefore difficult to fix. In a paradoxical twist, the only thing we can count on is change – so it makes sense to try to make friends with it.

    We can try to see change with new eyes by appreciating what it brings to our lives. Have you ever stopped to consider what a world without change would be like?

    “Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” says Thich Naht Hahn

    Without change, we would be frozen in time and space. In this way, change opens a world abundant with potential and possibility -- a living moment for which we can be grateful.

    Many of us may feel that change arouses fear and anxiety. Perhaps this stems from an expectation that it will be for the worse, or from a desire to distance ourselves from unpleasant aspects of our experience. Whatever the reason, fear blocks our ability to meet change with acceptance and open-mindedness. In these moments, we can use mindfulness to become more aware of the dialogue that’s taking place within -- and by looking at fear with curiosity and non-judgement, we can begin to disconnect from it and find the power to step into courage.

    Of course, we all need to feel grounded when change takes place around us, but so often we seek this anchor in external things or people. Once we truly understand that the external world is transient and fleeting, it makes little sense to continue to seek security in it -- and that's when we can start to look for that anchor inside of ourselves using mindfulness and meditation. By practising over and over the act of remaining present with what arises, we can come in touch with a part of ourselves that is beyond the ebb and flow of life.

    In fact, the more we let ourselves experience change, the more we may realise that it is something we can survive and benefit from. Life doesn’t necessarily get ‘easier’, but using mindfulness, we can ride its waves with more resilience and equanimity – or in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, we “learn to surf.”

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Why Uncertainty is Good for the Brain

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    When it comes to world events, family disputes, office politics, etc., we are often quick to take a side, and sometimes very passionately. Once we have taken a side in such an argument it's usually difficult for our minds to reassess, even when presented with new information; our emotional stance can make it difficult to assess (or even want to assess) the situation with objectivity.

    But what is the apparent safety of such decided opinions? Why do our minds so easily choose a side, and why do we have an adversity to uncertainty? Cognitive neuroscience may provide some insight.

    Different Types of Uncertainty

    Decision making is crucial to our survival; it’s important that we judge correctly whether it’s safe to cross the road, if this fish is still good to eat, or if we can trust that person.  According to Hsu et al. (2005), there are roughly two types of uncertain events that we are regularly faced with: risky and ambiguous.

    Risky decisions tend to be when the odds are known, and the probability of outcome may be assessed and estimated, e.g. I know I have 10 red cards and 10 blue cards in a deck, so I can roughly guess my chances of picking a blue card.

    Conversely, in ambiguous decisions, the uncertainty of the odds creates a difficulty in analysis, e.g. I have 20 cards, but I have no idea what proportion is red, and what proportion is blue, hence picking a blue card feels more down to chance.

     

    Find out more about mindfulness on our 'Neuroscience of Mindfulness' workshop.

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    How Uncertainty Affects the Brain

    Hsu et al. (2005) found that in the face of uncertain events, in both hemispheres the amygdala (raw emotional responses) and prefrontal cortex (executive function) increase in multimodal sensory stimulation as ambiguity of a situation also increases. Like a pressure cooker, the missing information in a decision that creates uncertainty effectively puts pressure on our mind to seek out more information to inform our decision.

    Brand et al. (2006) also suggests that unlike risky decisions, ambiguous decisions often rely less on previous rational feedback from past choices, as well as being more susceptible to emotional responses associated with comparable situations.

    This could explain why we tend to repeat the same kinds of arguments with people we have history with: it’s difficult for our minds to view each new situation mindfully due to our past emotional responses.

    In ambiguous situations, our minds may choose to seek a definitive answer to alleviate this pressure that we sense building. Our mind attempts to balance the discomfort experienced when no clear path is right or wrong, and we are faced with a choice that doesn't involve a binary option.

    Watching How Our Minds Seek Answers

    A great way to explore this tendency of the mind is to delve into that part of the internet that we seem to love and loathe in equal measure: the comments section! News stories are particularly good places to try, and the more complex the matter the better.

    Not only will you find a multitude of arguments and counterarguments, but you’ll also be more likely to already have an opinion of your own too. As you read through the opinions, watch what your mind does. Notice any tension that builds when you read an argument you disagree with, or if you find yourself feeling torn between two (or more) different points of view.

    The point of this exercise is not to decide which individual is correct in the argument, but to simply become aware of the reactions and pressure our mind presents us with in the face of allowing ourselves to sit in uncertainty. Try to ‘surf’ the urge to settle on just one point of view. In other words, notice the urge to ‘know’ what’s true, but see if you can ride it out.

    Being aware of this rising inner conflict has in fact been shown to strengthen the brain structures associated with executive functioning, and our ability to navigate beliefs loosely, and with more freedom. This ability is a key element to living a more mindful life.

    Our ability to form opinions and make decisions is definitely a useful evolutionary tool that helps us navigate our day-to-day environment which can often be highly ambiguous. However, the persistent need to find an answer can indeed produce a fragile perception of reality and impede our navigation of complicated dilemmas.

     

    Find out more about mindfulness on a mindfulness course or workshop.

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  • “They Might Have Guns But We Have Flowers.”

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    In a recent interview at the scene of the Baraclan attacks in Paris, one French father shared a beautiful message of hope with his young son.

    In the short clip, the son says that they will have to leave their home because of the terrorists. After the father’s reassurance that they won’t be leaving, and that France is their home, his son pleads, “They have guns, they can shoot us because they’re really really mean daddy.” His father then replies, “It’s okay, they might have guns but we have flowers.”

    “But flowers don’t do anything,” says the son.

    “Of course they do, look,” says the father, pointing towards them, “everyone is putting flowers. It’s to fight against the guns.”

    “It’s to protect?”

    “Exactly.”

    “And the candles too?”

    “It’s to remember the people who are gone yesterday.”

    “The flowers and candles are here to protect us,” says the son.

    There’s a short pause as the reporter, the father and the son smile warmly at each other, and then the reporter asks the boy, “Do you feel better now?”

    “Yes, I feel better,” says the boy.

    Some may argue that this exchange was ‘soft’ or naïve, because of course flowers and candles cannot protect us from bullets and bombs. And yet, these things can protect us from the hatred and fear that terrorist attacks inevitably cause. Expressions of love and unity protect us from closing our hearts; they protect us from disconnecting from each other.

    Mindfulness practice teaches us how to redirect our focus; away from dwelling endlessly on the men with guns and towards the acts of courage and love which have been shown not just in Paris, but also in Beirut and other parts of the world. That’s not to say that we ignore the tragedy of what has happened and that we should not educate ourselves on the spread Islamic Extremism and do whatever we can to prevent it from spreading. But it is helpful to consciously notice the continuing goodness of people too. People like Adel Termos, who selflessly tackled a suicide bomber to the ground in Beirut, thus saving countless others from the explosion.

    Thankfully few of us will ever face the terror of gunshots. Yet we all face the fear those gunshots send echoing across the world. If we can mindfully look to the goodness of people, to the flowers and candles, to the kindness expressed in the face of horror, then we have not lost.

    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.’” Fred Rogers

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Mindfulness in the Face of Terrorism

    Optimized-Je Suis Charlie

    The news is filled with tragedy every day. Yet there was something different about what happened in Paris last week. It wasn’t that it was any worse than other atrocities or acts of terrorism; it was that it was so close to home. And, although it may feel like an uncomfortable truth, gunmen storming an office on an ordinary Wednesday morning is more personally frightening to us than the same happening to a school thousands of miles away.

    It doesn’t mean we don’t care about other parts of the world, it just means that our brains are wired to seek out threats, and danger so nearby will naturally affect us more deeply. The question is, how do we remain mindful in the face of such tragedy, and how do we keep our hearts open amid such strong emotions?

    Fear, Anger and Hate

    It may seem flippant to quote Yoda from Star Wars when writing about such a serious matter, however there is undeniable truth in what the scriptwriter wrote for the character: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    Although we live in an unpredictable world, we’re pretty good at forgetting that we’re not in control. Most of our days pass by without incident, and so when we hear on the news that something terrible has happened we are shocked back into the reality that life can be precarious and unsafe.

    Many of us have probably wondered, “Are we next?” This is a scary prospect. For Londoners it’s also bound to bring up painful memories of the 07/07 bombings. These fears are then fuelled by sensationalist media coverage. If we’re not mindful, we can end up feeling paralysed by fear and despair.

    Our initial reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo may have been shock or sadness, yet if we’re honest with ourselves how many of us then became angry? With that anger comes all kinds of aggressive and defensive thoughts and feelings. This is normal fight-or-flight stuff. However, if left unchecked, these thoughts and feelings could rapidly turn into hatred.

    This is how racism and prejudice are born; when we allow normal emotional reactions about individuals to turn into beliefs about entire groups of people. This is why mindfulness is so crucial. If we mindlessly descend into hatred, this doesn’t just cause suffering within us; it also fuels division outside of us too. Approaching our feelings with acceptance, compassion and honesty helps us avoid getting lost in this destructive spiral.

     

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    Acceptance Doesn’t Have To Be Passive

    While acceptance of feelings and circumstances is important, this acceptance doesn't mean, as Tara Brach says, “to be a doormat”. It doesn't mean that we have to simply accept that bad things happen in the world and that we have no influence; that we need to accept the anger, fear or sadness that this brings up, add a little (self-)compassion into the mix, and that's it.

    If we feel passionate about injustice, acceptance is only the first step. The next step is to take action. Why? Because we can be accepting and still go to a demonstration such as the one in Paris and thus let the world know that we furiously condemn the killings of those journalists and want to stand united with others for peace. Mindfulness is not about simply sitting on a cushion, it can also give us the courage to get up from that cushion and engage with this world.

    Having Open Hearts, Even When it Hurts

    Even though it’s hard, we need to give ourselves permission to have an aching heart. The pain triggered by such tragedy can be overwhelming. We may lose faith in the goodness of humanity, or despair at the fact that we don’t live in a kinder world. It’s easy at times like this to become suspicious of each other, to want to disconnect. But we don’t like feeling these things, and so our instinct is to fight it. This just creates more suffering.

    The practice of mindfulness helps us to hold this range of emotions with gentleness. We realise we don’t have to push these thoughts away, because our compassionate heart is able to hold them lightly without turning them into truths about the world.

    Our fear and anger can be so strong as to make us forget the good things about people. Yet mindfulness helps us stay committed to the truth. The truth is that terrible things do happen, but so do good things. The existence of terrorism does not negate the fact that people also do wonderful things for each other every day.

    Ultimately, accepting the painful feelings which arise, and acknowledging that this pain is an experience we share with the whole of humanity can help stop divisive beliefs from taking hold. And making a conscious effort to remember the goodness in people will help us keep our hearts open.

     

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