Where to Start? – Personal Development
As a starting point, the structure of a classic 8 week MBSR program can be a good orientation. To this date, MBSR is the best scientifically researched meditation program. We start with practices to improve our awareness of the body—like the body scan (a body perception exercise) and mindful movements rooted in the yoga tradition. With these practices, it is possible to arrive at a more intimate and trusting relationship with the body. As a result, we improve our perception of the body and are less lost in thought.
As body and mind are harmonized to a certain degree, we can deepen the practice in sitting meditation, contemplation and reflection. Some wisdom traditions call our mind “monkey mind”—an untrained mind which is jumping from tree to tree and doesn`t stop thinking, speculating and planning. At the beginning of sitting meditation practice, we cultivate a stabilization of our restless mind with the help of our breath as the main object of meditation. When the mind starts to wander, we bring it back to the breath in a friendly way. With practice, we can learn to direct our attention in a more conscious and calm way. The breath connects us with the present moment and in many traditions, it serves as an anchor for the wandering mind. Ultimately, we strengthen our ability to consciously perceive without clinging to the objects of perception. As awareness deepens, our tendency to identify with alluring thoughts is loosened.
Due to the resulting stability, we become more anchored in the body. This enables us to feel challenging emotions without turning away. Deeper insights into our personality and our human characteristics are the result of this stabilization and deepening of our conscious experience. As we sharpen our view, we are better equipped to distinguish between situations we can influence and others which are outside the scope of our response-ability. With the help of various exercises, we cultivate helpful potentials of the mind—like patience, clear recognition, stability, friendliness, acceptance and others. Habit energies and unhelpful reactive patterns increasingly lose their power over us. It is important to know that these processes take their (own) time. Even though it is possible for the practitioner to feel noticeable changes after some weeks of practice, the conscious experience of meditators deepens over decades. This knowledge can help to take the pressure off our daily practice—it can weaken our desire to achieve something particular in meditation.
A basic intention to change and to develop is very helpful for our practice. However, a distinct desire to change an emotion or an unwanted habit pattern, is a hopeless endeavor. We practice letting go – und the letting go of letting go. At the same time, it is encouraging to know that we have an enormous potential for inner growth, if we practice wholeheartedly. As our practice deepens, our world of experience becomes wider and a more vivid experience freedom and connectedness can emerge.
It is very helpful to reflect on our own development from time to time. A good orientation can be found in the book Meditation und Gehirn, by Heinz Hilbrecht. In his down-to-earth language, the author describes the long-term development of meditators. Unfortunately, there is no English translation available of this book. Another practical guide can be found in Rob Burbea’s book Seeing that Frees. However, some understanding of Buddhist concepts and language is needed to benefit from this book.
Where does all the stress come from? – Cultural Development
If you found our website because you feel stressed and experience challenging emotions that you want to transform—that`s a good start. A crisis can be invitation to let go of something old and grow into something new.
At Deeply Human, we look at the increasing popularity of mindfulness and meditation in our society in a very positive way. Yet we are also critical of the hype surrounding mindfulness. In the rhetoric of some modern representatives of mindfulness—especially in the economic context—we notice that stress is often reduced to an individual problem, while systemic causes for stress are ignored or neglected.
Our growth-oriented consumer culture and performance-oriented society are probably the biggest stress producers of our time. Our obsolete societal system not only creates stress for humans, but also for animals and entire ecosystems. By not perceiving the systemic causes of stress and seeing the responsibility exclusively in each individual, mindfulness can be misused to sustain a system incapable to sustain life. The inability to cope with the stress associated with our modern lifestyle can easily be seen as a personal deficit. We meditate, practice mindfulness, but otherwise continue with business as usual as before—without questioning our way of life in depth. Many important questions are not asked in this incomplete approach. Is it perhaps the most natural thing in the world to be stressed or to feel that something is fundamentally wrong—under the current circumstances and demands? Who still believes in the story of infinite economic growth? Could it be that the causes of stress are to a large extent systemic? By practicing mindfulness without looking at our surroundings and our cultural narratives, we try to alleviate symptoms of a disease without looking at its root causes.
That’s why we encourage meditators to develop a more holistic view of their lifestyle. Our practice can only unfold its powerful, transformative power, when it illuminates all areas of life.
What are the stories that carry us through life? We invite you to reflect in depth on the cultural narratives that shaped—and still shape—our Western culture. When we are aware of the narrative ground on which we stand, when body and mind are in harmony, when the mind becomes more stable, when the identification with our thoughts loosens—then our perception will naturally turn towards the interconnectedness of life. Although our view may still be clouded—in our hearts, we may already have a faint idea of something new, beautiful and meaningful.
We would also like to point out that the path can be quite challenging and requires a degree of stability. With strong traumas or in acute times of crisis, the way inwards may not be helpful. Mindfulness and meditation are no substitute for psychotherapy. Our practice has the potential for lasting transformation and healing, because we get to know and integrate our unloved parts. Mindfulness includes shadow work and can be exhausting. Those who have serious intentions to deepen their practice, should seek the exchange with experienced practitioners. Also, the value of communal practice cannot be overstated.