For the love of…
During my mid twenties as I began to transition into an Adult, I set out on a personal journey to create a more balanced and happier version of me. Amongst the discoveries that come with self development – one of the most beneficial was allowing myself to embrace my complexities. We all have imperfections right? Few of us could say we are perfect – imagine how boring that would be anyway.
With a therapist, I worked through my anchors and learnt to be present in the here and now. Through accepting hardships and redefining my values, an updated edition of me was being created. Offering new goals and a new outlook. Put simply, working towards a better version of me. Part of this process introduced the effortless and natural techniques of meditation.
Amongst the confrontation, there was mostly enjoyment during this journey – one that is continually evolving. My greatest learning from being able to meditate is the ability to rest the body, calm the mind and nurture inner stillness.
On recommendation, I enrolled in a seven week meditation course ran by Sally Polmear of Mindful Meditation. Sally is a gentle, composed and talented teacher with a soothing aura – her presence alone takes you to a peaceful place. The course is held at Northcote Town Hall, Melbourne, in an open and undisturbed space that offers a tranquil setting.
The course focused on awareness, which is explained by Sally as the quality of our attention and our relationship to what we think of as “distractions” and how to rest in the stillness of a spacious mind. The course also included core meditation practices as well as listening meditation and visualisation. Both of these techniques, I’ve found to be powerful tools.
By committing to the technique of meditation, it became second nature – a part of my everyday routine. I was reaping the rewards of peacefulness, which helped ground me through my grief and the challenges of motherhood. In particular, during the time my child dropped eight teeth between the age of three and six months – Phew! That makes me anxious just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong I can still get a bit batty but am able to centre myself more easily.
Meditation opened me up to a whole new community of like-minded people. I’ve made great friends through retreats, workshops and mass meditation events. My work place even adopted this approach offering half hour meditation sessions once a week to staff. It also became a mandated part of the agenda in our program meetings. How cool!
Sally kindly agreed to chat all things Meditation and has offered a few tips on how to learn the technique too.
Can you share with us a bit about Sally?
Apart from living and travelling overseas for some extended periods, Melbourne has been home most of my life. My husband and I have been married 30 years and we have two adult children. I trained as a general nurse and also worked as a secondary teacher, and have taught creative dance for a few years. I completed yoga and meditation teacher training and have been teaching meditation and mindfulness for the past 12 years. I am currently doing a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy. I relish the return to study and how the course and my teaching compliment one another. Other things I enjoy are spending time with family and friends, weekly dance classes, bushwalking, reading, bird watching and looking through my telescope.
What is meditation and what are the benefits of this technique?
Meditation can be defined as a practical activity that trains the mind to be focused and calm. There are many different techniques, but the essential aim is to develop clarity of attention in the present moment, rather than succumbing to habitual patterns of worrying about the future, replaying the past or other negative thinking patterns. The practices are a source of inner peace and contentment.
Regular meditation helps us transform the relationship we have to our thoughts and emotions so we become less vulnerable to anxious or depressive states, or generalized feelings of stress. Rather than engaging with the busy mind or trying to suppress the thoughts or emotions, meditation helps us learn how to rest in the spacious stillness “beneath” them.
Techniques often use the body and breath as the focus in attention training. When the body is relaxed, the mind calms naturally and when the mind is peaceful, the body can heal. Learning to relax deeply is beneficial for physical, emotional and mental health.
Research shows that regular meditation practice has significant effects in thickening the pre-frontal cortex- the parts of the brain that handle emotion regulation, attention and memory- all of these help with:
-improvement in relating to self and others through clearer, and wiser choices and communications.
Practicing meditation on a regular basis helps us know what it is to have peace of mind, no matter what is happening in our inner or outer worlds of experience. The benefits in the rest of our lives far outweigh the time it takes to do the practices.
When and how did you become interested in Meditation?
Although I didn’t give it a name, as a child I tried to meditate by being quiet and attempting to still my mind. At nineteen, I enjoyed the contemplative practices at Taizé Christian community in France where I lived for a month, but it wasn’t until after having children that I actively sought meditation teachings in Melbourne. My interest came from wishing to be happier, manage stress better, be calmer in myself and with others, and I was looking for deeper understanding and acceptance of the mystery of life and death. So there were practical, relational and spiritual reasons to turn to meditation.
Back then there weren’t many places offering meditation and no internet to find them easily! I went to the Gawler Foundation for a meditation retreat and after this “stumbled” on Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the Sakya tradition. I received many excellent teachings in this way and our whole family went with a group on Buddhist pilgrimage in India and Nepal. We had the good fortune to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama, someone whose wisdom and vitality is an inspiring testament to the benefits of meditation practice.
The various meditation retreats, including a two-month retreat with Dr B. Alan Wallace that I have had the fortune to attend, have been opportunities to practice for more sustained periods and receive further teachings.
Is mediation targeted towards a certain cohort or should this be something we all incorporate into our daily lives?
There are meditation practices suited to all different personalities and propensities. It really depends on the individual and whether they wish to explore and experience the benefits of meditation practice. Ultimately the practices transform who we are and how we view the world. Our whole way of living becomes the practice. And being accustomed to resting in the space of the mind allows us to have a more spacious and patient approach to others, fostering greater understanding and recognition that our perspective is only one possible view. As the Jewish wisdom teachings say, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Meditation helps us expand our hearts and minds. This can only promote greater harmony and peace in the world.
Share with us your business, Mindful Meditation?
I chose the name Mindful Meditation because there is not much point meditating each day if the practice is not affecting the rest of our lives. The time spent in meditation is the formal rehearsal that keeps training us to live in a mindful way, awake to the present moment which is the only time we have to be alive. As Nagarjuna, the Indian sage observed eight centuries ago, “If you’re mindful you’re happy. If you’re not, you’re not.”
Classes for the general public are based at Northcote Town Hall and I also run courses within various organizations and businesses, in addition to offering private consultations. After each session I send participants a summary of the class, including suggestions for meditation and mindfulness practices to help keep on track in daily life. The practices are simple, but the encouragement and various tips can help in establishing, and developing beneficial meditation and mindfulness habits.
I have recorded a CD of guided meditations, which compliments the courses, as well as being a useful resource generally for people wishing to learn meditation and establish a daily practice.
Obviously the best way to deeply understand and learn meditation is to participate in a course, but do you have any simple techniques or tips that people can embrace?
Being mindful is about a quality of attention. Often our minds are absorbed in whole trains of thought completely removed from the present moment and we miss the richness of our lives. Fortunately, we have two things with us at all times that instantly bring us into present-centred awareness when we pay attention to them; the body and the breath.
A simple, yet powerful practice is to notice the body and notice the breath.
For instance, during the day I regularly stop and feel connection to the stability of the earth through my feet (whether walking, sitting or standing). This instantly anchors my attention in the present and also helps me feel how my body is- a great opportunity to soften areas of tension. And I become conscious of the breath flowing in, turning and flowing out of the body. (Studies have shown these simple techniques lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone).
Another practice I find helpful is to look up. What I mean here is to remember to look up and see what is happening in the sky, during the day and at nighttime. This cuts through rumination, shifts our perspective instantly and connects us to the spaciousness of the mind, which is like the sky. Our thoughts and emotions are as clouds passing through without altering the fundamental depth and calmness of the space of the mind.
Finally, try shower mindfulness. When you take your shower, enjoy the sensations of the warm water, the smell of the soap, the chance to relax and nourish yourself, to pause in busy doing and rest in simply being. Mindful attention can happen anywhere, anytime and awaken your vitality and appreciation of life.
Tell us about your courses and workshops?
Mindful Meditation courses and workshops are offered at Northcote Town Hall. It is not necessary to attend both, but they compliment one another. The seven-week courses are run on either Tuesday or Thursday evenings or the workshops on Saturday mornings, once a term.
Also, I tailor sessions for businesses and organisations and offer private consultations for individuals or small groups of up to four people.
The courses are suitable for beginners or those with some experience. I draw from various wisdom traditions and include poetry, quotes and stories where relevant. The courses are taught in a secular way.
The workshops run for three hours including a mindful morning tea and are an opportunity for a mini retreat to rest the body and calm the mind. A summary is also sent to participants.
Share with us one of your learnings about meditation?
One of the biggest lessons I learnt on the two-month retreat was seeing clearly how caught up I could be in striving to meditate “better!” I was applying perfectionism to my meditation that was really the opposite to the intention of these practices.
Fortunately, Alan Wallace emphasized deep, yet wakeful relaxation as the foundation of all practice. So instead of coming home with meditation medals, I returned more accepting of my imperfections, more amused by this ego striving when it shows up and taking more delight in the day to day experience of meditation, however it goes.
Can’t escape he colour question – What is your favourite colour and why?
Love the random question! I am drawn to red, associating it with warmth, passion and vitality. It is a colour that demands attention! And in small touches it can bring vibrancy to an otherwise bland palette. In childhood, my mother used to tie red bows in my hair. I think this had an early influence on my preference!
Isn’t Sally just incredible? Take a moment to practice the techniques that she has offered in this post – then come back to me… How do you feel now? Grounded, centred, calm, relaxed, still – I bet! One of several benefits in doing the night course with Sally was the incredible night sleep that followed.
Hands down this self development journey is the best process I have taken myself on. I’d encourage everyone to embrace the goodness of meditation and to make it a pivotal part of daily living. I’m still a work in progress and always will be but thats ok because our cars go in for a tune up so why wouldn’t we put ourselves in for one too.. x