Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Mindchoice: On silence

Today's post is from Clare McLusky who provides us with an insight into her experience with cancer and the popular practice of Mindfulness. 

Clare has a Masters degree in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy from University of Oxford and teaches Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to people living with cancer. Clare is also a qualified Occupational Therapist, Yes to Life Helpline volunteer and one of the founding members and facilitators of Oxford Sangha, practising in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Clare will be running a 'Mindfulness for Living Well with Cancer' Course in Oxford for 8 weeks starting on the 23rd April, for more information please see her website.

I am teaching MBCT or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to a group of 10 friends.  This has been a very rewarding and enjoyable experience.  Each week my friends arrive in a flurry of activity and chattiness and there is a real cocktail party atmosphere at 10 in the morning, with everybody chatting at once.

Last Thursday I led a silent day of practice and after we had come out of silence gently and slowly and reflected on the experience, the day was then drawn to a close with the bell.  However, we continued to sit and chat for a while.  The difference between the beginning of the day and the end of the day was striking – one person spoke at a time, people listened and then the next person spoke.  It was wonderfully calm and peaceful and nourishing.

Being in silence for a period of time like this reveals how busy our minds are and shows us the repetitive or habitual thought patterns we get drawn into again and again.  After surgery to remove a tumour on my voice box I was not allowed to speak for a week.  I am incredibly grateful to a wonderful nurse who was there after the surgery, who suggested I use the time like a retreat.

I had not discovered meditation at this time but I learnt an immense amount all the same.  I found myself constantly writing notes of instructions to my mother, who was staying to help, and to my husband.  A lot of these concerned care of our 3 year old son and the dog but numerous other things too.  I noticed how controlling I was.  I let go and trusted.  What a relief!  How much more relaxing!

I love the arrival of an insight and am constantly amazed when phrases or words I have heard for maybe years I suddenly know and feel within my whole being.  For example, I have heard the books by Thich Nhat Hanh 'Being Peace' and 'Peace is Every Step' quoted or read from frequently but never really understood the words.  I suppose I took the meaning as being quiet and gentle and learning to accept difficulties (inner or outer) rather than struggle against them.  Then I was walking to my local shop one day and suddenly had a deep insight on 'Peace is Every Step' and realised that it is possible in each moment to be peaceful, to not add any more to the experience than what is.  In the Buddha’s words – in the seeing, just the seeing, in the hearing, just the hearing.  It was a profound moment for me.

Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh

When I walk the dogs, the countryside is still and quiet, particularly the ancient wood nearby where the stillness is palpable and yet at times, I am suddenly woken up by the sheer beauty of a tree or the sunlight across a field and I realise I have been walking in this silence with an extremely busy, stressed mind – the noise within is deafening and battering me about.

I stop and close my eyes and come into touch with just 2 senses, body and sound.  I notice the feel of my feet on the solid earth beneath me, the feeling of my clothes on my body, the air against my skin and maybe the feel of the sun’s rays or the wind and I hear the bird song, the creaking of branches or distant sound of a tractor or car.  In this way I bring myself back to the present moment and awareness of what is.

I notice how difficult it is to just be, particularly when there are difficult feelings like anxiety around, how my mind is off into the future or past, anywhere to get away from feeling the emotion, thoughts going ten to the dozen.  Noise. I find it all to easy to turn the radio on or watch TV.  Noise.  Whereas just being in silence watching, being with whatever arises, is what is asked of us and yet at times that just feels too painful. But maybe that is the expectation or hope for what the next moment brings or attachment to an outcome.

Maybe being is this sitting here, writing this, feet on a cushion, bum on a chair, dog softly snoring – this is enough, this moment is enough.  Eckhart Tolle suggests repeatedly asking ourselves “what is wrong now?” Right now, I am warm and comfortable and enjoying writing this.  Perfect moment. Wonderful moment.

To read more of Clare's Mind Choice series please click here.

For details on Clare's 8-week 'Mindfulness for Living Well with Cancer' Course in Oxford, please see her website.

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