Frame By Frame – “The Feel of Things”
A blog from mindfulness practitioner, Theresa Meikle, on the OMF's Frame by Frame course.
I have been practising mindfulness and meditation for about a decade. Since I retired from working full time as a Vice-Principal in a secondary school I have practised consistently. I started my formal journey by reading The Full Catastrophe by Jon Kabat-Zin when I experienced a health crisis. I grew to understand that there were strategies that I could use to respond to my situation wisely, rather than add to my fear and worry. Learning about the practice of mindfulness through reading was a beginning, but it only really became alive for me through practising – on my own and in community. I have since become a certified mindfulness teacher and shared this wonderful practice with others, primarily in schools. I think these practices are essential to support wellbeing and mental health.
Over the course of the pandemic I grew my practice by tuning into the weekly sessions through the OMC. These sessions were an important anchor in my week and enhanced my practice tremendously. Most recently I had the great pleasure of participating in the new course “Frame by Frame” facilitated by Tim Sweeney. Each week I looked forward to practising with the group and hearing of the shared delights, surprises and discoveries. I would like to share some of them with you.
It was so encouraging to be with others who are invested in taking care of themselves through mindfulness. I felt we were on a shared journey to understand ourselves better and to relate to ourselves with kindness and patience. There is comfort in knowing we are not alone and that we all have difficulties and disappointments. Our time spent together focused on how we can relate to this reality with a gentle acceptance.
Learning about “feeling tone” and practising noticing rather than judging was an important aspect of the course for me. Tuning into “the feel of things” is a way of noticing what is arising before I get carried away with emotions and thoughts. Labelling what is present as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral is like getting a preview of what is to come and it opens up the possibility of following it or not. I found this really helpful in turning toward difficulty. If I tune into the “feel” of the difficulty I can just notice it. I don’t need to run away from it or rush toward it; when I notice I can choose to move toward or move away. So, this really is a delight as it helps me to see the freedom that exists. A key learning for me is that this preview offers choice.
A big surprise for me occurred during our befriending practice. I am familiar with this practice as it is one that I revisit often and I have led it for others. During this particular session my mind was racing. I could not settle in. I could not concentrate. I could not follow the gentle guidance. The voice in my head was really active and judgmental. “What’s the matter with you? You should be able to do this! Just concentrate!” The harder I tried, the worse it got. I’m certain that this has happened to me in the past and I just gave up or distracted myself with something else, but the opportunity came up here to debrief it with Tim’s inquiry. This was so helpful as I saw this pattern of striving and berating myself for not doing the meditation properly. This moment has stuck with me as I’m more aware of this tendency to judge myself harshly. Now, on occasion, I can feel it arising and choose to pause before it becomes a cascade. I can turn towards it and remind myself “It’s okay not to like this” and “no action required”. This is helpful when I’m feeling restless in meditation or when I’m impatient with myself at any point in the day. An important learning from this is that when I befriend myself I am more able to approach challenge.
The warp and weft of everyday mindfulness practices: waking up, appreciation, pausing, mindful speaking and listening and end of day reflection provide a very helpful structure to take the learning of the course into our lives in a meaningful and practical way. The emphasis on treating ourselves and others with compassion really resonated with me. The mindful speaking and listening audio file is impactful as it opens up the possibility of building relationships in an honest and caring way. If we choose to speak of others let it be with warmth, kindness and generosity. When we really bring an intention to be present in our listening it is a gift to others.
The “hot air balloon” image is so beautifully suited to the end of day reflection. When I take the time to identify what truly nourishes me and consider how I can build more of it into my days I am rewarded with a clearer sense of direction and purpose. Remembering that I can choose the attitude I bring to those things that weigh me down provides a sense of freedom.
Mindfulness practices have enriched my wellbeing over the past decade. I have found reading and practising on my own to be very helpful, but I think it is essential to practise and learn in community. When we come together to share our intention to live mindfully and compassionately, our lives are enriched. We feel we belong. We know that we are not alone in our delights and difficulties. When we are led by skillful, caring teachers our lives expand and we navigate the inner landscape in safety and with courage.
I grew up in Scotland, the youngest of seven children. My mother loved to read and we had a copy of Desiderata by Max Ehrmann framed in our home. I think the opening words, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence” may have been my mother’s dearest wish in our busy and loud home. When I think of it now, I see this poem as the beginning of my journey in mindfulness. There is great wisdom in much of it and the line “many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness” seems particularly relevant right now. We have witnessed increased anxiety as this fatigue and loneliness has been heightened through the pandemic. Practising mindfulness daily has helped me to nourish my spirit, to connect with others and to turn toward the fears as they arise. I hope it helps you to navigate each day – frame by frame.
With gratitude to all the wonderful teachers on the journey.