With mental health high on many people’s agenda this new year, SoGlos has been catching up with The Isbourne’s meditation and mindfulness expert, Kathryn Buxton.
Discussing meditation apps, what meditation isn’t and how sceptical she was of the practice when she was a beginner, we round up everything you need to know about getting in tune with your thoughts in 2020.
And, if you’re interested in starting your path towards mindfulness and meditation here in Gloucestershire, The Isbourne is hosting a course on the topic in January 2020. For more information visit isbourne.org/a-beginners-guide-to-mindfulness.
Kathryn Buxton is a meditation and mindfulness teacher at The Isbourne, Cheltenham’s leading wellness hub. The Isbourne is home to a packed schedule of courses, classes, workshops and talks, spanning subjects from Reiki and massage, through to reflexology and mindfulness.
It’s actually easier to start with what it isn’t! A big misconception is that people think when you meditate, you’re getting rid of thoughts. I’m forever being told: ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that Kathryn, because I’m always too busy thinking about stuff!’ but the great joy of meditation is you don’t want to get rid of thoughts. You’re quite happy to allow thoughts to pop up as you meditate, but what you learn to do is to observe them and learn from them.
Practically, you sit comfortably and get in touch with your breath and your body. We perform a body scan where we notice how the body feels sitting, and begin to focus on the breath. As you focus, you’ll notice all sorts of thoughts and feelings or worries. Those will naturally pop up into your mind, you notice you’re caught up in a thought, then gently say: ‘whoops. I’m caught up in thinking’ and then kindly come back to the breath. So that’s the initial practice is – noticing your thoughts and coming back to your breath.
For about 25 years I was a primary school teacher in Cheltenham, where I worked as a special needs co-ordinator as well as being on the management committee. I was finding it very stressful and wasn’t coping with that stress in a very wholesome or healthy way. I decided I needed to do something about it and my sister sent me a book called Heart Advice for Difficult Times by a Buddhist writer called Pema Chödrön. It transformed my life really, and inspired me to learn how to meditate.
I went to classes, but I was only practicing for about five minutes every week and wasn’t getting anything from it. So, I decided to throw myself into a week-long silent meditation retreat. We were meditating 11 times per day – it was really full on and I must admit I spent the first two days in tears thinking ‘what am I doing here?’
But then something just kicked in, I went with the flow of it and it transformed me. I realised that I wanted to make meditation a really important part of my life, so I trained with the British School of Meditation, which is based here at The Isbourne. I started teaching family and friends first, before giving up school teaching, and now I’m working as the college manager and meditation teacher here at The Isbourne.
Initially, when I went to the retreat I was looking for something that was easy – a simple quick fix. What I realised was that there’s a practice here that I need to stay in, and to be committed to. So, that’s what I was pushing against for those first couple of days.
Once I let myself enter into the whole flow of it, everything started to change and those thoughts and feelings become part of the process.
I notice that a lot when I teach people. They come to meditation because they want to get rid of stress and anxiety, and they’re looking for ways to relax themselves. Meditation can help with that, it helps you to feel relaxed, but the real power behind mindfulness meditation is the ability to relax and becoming an observer of what your thoughts are doing. Usually we drift into the future and worry, or focus on bad things in the past, but we spend very little time in the present – that’s what regular practice can help with.
Lots of people who come to my classes don’t always know why they’ve come, but all of them, at some level, are experiencing suffering. It might be something to do with work or family, or a general sense of unease in their life, but quite often when we’re suffering, we might turn to alcohol, partying, or spending lots of money on things that numb the pain. People go through this for a while, but often they’ll reach a point where the minimal amount of temporary relief isn’t enough, and that’s where meditation can really come into play.
The apps are brilliant, because they offer the opportunity to start with short two-minute bursts of meditation and move up as you get more comfortable.
It’s a great way of getting into meditation, but when the Buddha talked about meditation, he said you need the ‘sangha’ which is the word for community, so going to a class, like we run at The Isbourne, will give you the chance to meet like-minded people who you can talk to, ask questions with and learn from.
So, I think as well as using the apps to aid your meditation at home, classes and that community can be hugely beneficial.
Monday 16 December 2019
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