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The heart of mindfulness

I’ve been used to expressing myself with words such as “fine”, “grand”, and “no bother” all of my life. But these aren’t really feelings at all. I think this is the experience of a lot of Irish men.

I finished an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course last week at the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin with elements of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It enabled me to communicate from my ‘heart centre’ on a consistent basis which has been a deep longing of mine. Here are some of my learnings:

  1. Awareness of body and breath: This came to the fore as I followed a guided body scan attending to the different physical sensations. It opened up a new world of curiosity and exploration. Seeing my grandmother die also reminded me of the sacredness of the breath.
  2. Connection between thoughts, feelings and physical sensations: It was good to realise the relationship of my inner and outer experience, but it was also a little stressful. I needed courage to see my reality as it was so I could then begin to take steps to reduce stress.
  3. Reactivity: Most of my ungrounded reactions with people came from a place of fear. I saw how I got caught up in the moment and was unable to respond with strength and love. I was invited to examine my interactions and how I could be more mindful and awake.
  4. Spaciousness: I learned to enter the many ‘spaces’ of my day, for example, the space between stimulus and response, in how I related to the events of my day, and to open up to moments of compassion. Like a breath of fresh air in the present moment.
  5. Difficult or stressful communications: I learned that asking relevant questions helped to further develop this sense of space. Asking people “How do you mean?” or “What makes you say that?” promoted less reactivity and an awakened awareness.
  6. Compassionate observer: Learning to create a space between me and my thoughts, feelings and physical sensations during sitting meditation prevented me from falling into unwanted habits. I was also invited to communicate from a deeper, warmer place or ‘heart centre’.
  7. Unstructured activities: I was able to let myself go without falling off the mark or into mindlessness. To focus on what nourished me rather than on what depleted me. Mindful opportunities extended beyond my practice to my life as a whole.
  8. Into the future: Mindfulness can be hard work. Sometimes I’d like to just stay in bed and hide away from the world, but I’d also like to stay awake to my life and experience and to the life and experience of others. As poet Roger Keyes says, “Let life live through you”.

Mindfulness practices:

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