Using Williams & Penman's book "Mindfulness: a practical guide" as a self-help resource (10th post) - eighth week's practice
Last updated on 3rd April 2012
I wrote recently about the seventh week's practice in this eight week mindfulness course. In today's post I'll look at the final session of the Williams & Penman course, described in chapter twelve (pp. 236 to 249) - "Your wild and precious life". This phrase is taken from Mary Oliver's stunning poem - "The summer day". The week-by-week course programme summary (p. 60) simply says "Week Eight helps you to weave mindfulness into your daily life, so that it's always there when you need it the most."
This is a short and heart-felt final chapter to the book. The authors talk about the huge importance of being able to come to a sense of "completeness" in the moment. As the Chinese sage Wu Men put it - "If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life." They go on to briefly review the course that we have followed through the book - "The aim of the early sessions was to give you, through formal and informal mindfulness practice, many opportunities to recognise the Doing mode in its many forms, and to begin the cultivation of the alternative Being mode ... You learned to see the patterns of the mind that distract you, and how the constant chatter of the mind can dull your senses, draining the colour and texture from each present moment. You learned to come back again and again to whatever you had been intending to focus on, without judgement or self-criticism. The core theme at this stage was how to pay attention, intentionally, with kindness ... You learned that the Doing mode of the mind is not a mistake, nor is it an enemy to get rid of. It is only problematic when it volunteers for a job it can't do, then refuses to let go ... So, the training in later sessions focused on widening awareness so that you could recognise when, in everyday life, the stress of frantic daily living is starting to trigger the overuse of Doing mode ... Mindfulness practice does not 'compel' us to let go of Doing, but it does give us the choice, and the skills to do so if we so choose ... the door is opened to a radically different approach to living - one that encourages you, from moment to moment, to actually live your life to the full 'right now', rather than putting it off until tomorrow ... The first seven weeks of the Mindfulness programme helped you to begin to taste this process, but Week Eight is as important as them all. Week Eight is the rest of your life".
They go on to make a series of suggestions (pp. 242 to 244) for weaving the practices into a routine that is sustainable in the long term, and give a nice "dropping a stone down a deep well" (p. 244) visualisation for eliciting key personal reasons for continuing to practice. This is certainly my experience too ... that it's very helpful to link one's practice to core values & priorities. For some people this will be couched in religious terms, for others in the language of positive psychology, and for others the reasons will be described in quite different ways. Making sure that one's motivation to continue practising is rooted in what matters deeply to oneself is a very good way of making the practice more resilient to the many challenges that life will throw at us. Williams & Penman discuss various options for continuing formal meditation practice (pp. 245 to 247). They also give five pages of "Resources" including helpful websites (including the book's own - www.franticworld.com), meditation centres, and books. This is important. I've been practising meditation most days of the week for over forty years. Exploring, "refreshing" the practice, going through arid and fertile times, experiencing different kinds of emotional & spiritual "weather" on one's journey. This is all to be expected. They end the book with the fine poem "Hokusai says" by Roger Keyes, which includes the lines:
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing ...
He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.