Editor's blog: Mindfulness and real life

Friday 6 July, 2007

BuddhaIt's a month since I came back from the silent meditation marathon at Gaia House and I'm trying to hang on to a few of its lessons.


The retreat was led by Buddhist monk, Bhante Gunaratana, and I have been transfixed by his book, Mindfulness in Plain English, since coming back to the real world.

Many of the people on the retreat were there because they'd read his book and wanted to learn from the man himself. I'd never heard of it, but ordered it immediately I came home. It's been surgically attached to me ever since.

I won't attempt to summarise what Bhante - who, despite being over 80 years old, has an incredible presence and a wicked sense of humour - says in his book. I do, however, want to share a few of his perceptions.

The theme of the book is Mindfulness: actually seeing what is there in front of us.

Cutting through the thought-streams

Bhante's premise (which is difficult to ague with ) is that we see life through a screen of thoughts and concepts. As he puts it, we get so caught up in this endless thought-stream that reality flows by unnoticed.

Meditation can sometimes seem daunting and mystical but its goal is to simply free us from not being aware of our lives as they unfold.

Bhante's gift, which shines through every page of this book, is to break down some of the myths and make them real and practical.

What is left is a remarkably lucid, accessible and sensible account of how mindfulness meditation (in the Vipassana tradition - though that detail isn't important) can literally chance your life: your reactions, your perception, your ability to life for the moment.

There is no hint of high-mindedness in his tone, which is grounded, realistic, and thoroughly human.

Getting by, not living

Consider this, from page one: "There you are, and you suddenly realise that you are spending your whole life just barely getting by. You keep up a good front. You manage to make ends meet somehow and look okay from the outside.

"But those periods of desperation, those times when you feel everything caving in on you - you keep those to yourself. You are a mess, and you know it.

"Meanwhile, way down under all of that, you just know that there has to be some other way to live, a better way to look at the world, a way to touch life more fully.... life is an emotional roller coaster, and you spend a lot of your time down at the bottom of the ramp, yearning for heights."

So what's wrong with you, Bhante asks? You are simply human, battling with all the usual human hallmarks of jealousy, suffering, discontent and stress.

Patience, endurance

Meditation isn't a quick-fix solution to the human condition, he says. In this age of instant gratification, this can be a hard pill to swallow.

"But what it does do is teach you to watch the functioning of your own mind in a calm and detached manner so you can gain insight into your own behaviour. The goal is awareness."

With a good deal of patience and commitment, meditation can simply teach you to stand aside from your own thought processes and not get involved.

Step by step, it will become clear that agitation is actually a superficial mental stage. It comes and goes, he says, and has no real grip on you at all.

Are you crazy? No, just human

There are so many pearls of hope and wisdom in this bok, but I particularly like this one, for its searing truth and humanity. Bhante writes:

"Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realisation that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse, utterly out of control and helpless.

"No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are no crazier than everybody else around you.

"The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation and they have not."


Do you meditate regularly? Has it helped you focus in your yoga practice? Have you read Bhante's book? I'd love to hear your thoughts on meditation or "mindfulness"; please log on and leave them here.


Lucia Cockcroft, editor


Mindfulness in Plain English can be purchased from amazon:



Other yoga-abode articles about meditation:

Editor's blog: Retreating in silence

Can short cuts work? Meditation minus the mantra

Seize the day with yoga and meditation retreats

Group calls for Transcandental meditation in schools

Editor's blog: seeking the kundalini with Sahaja meditation



Getting by - that's me. I

Getting by - that's me. I just ordered the book on Amazon.com, and I'll be back to let you know how it went. Thanks for the rec!

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Glad you found my waffling useful, Eva. Let me know how you get on!


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