Monday, 2 February 2009

Slowing down...

I’m pretty sure it’s something I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, but the parallels between Jiu Jitsu and mediation are many. In fact I would go as far to say that good Jiu Jitsu is meditation. There’s an interesting post on this on Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood and I can concur with everything written there.

A couple of years ago, I went to the London Buddhist Centre (LBC) in Bethnal Green for a day long introduction to meditation. I think it cost about £25… I know they still run them. I went along having read lots on Buddhism, a rudimentary knowledge of meditation and, I guess, looking for some answers. What I got was a relaxing day with some nice people, some methods of focussing meditation and some nice vegetarian food. Really enjoyable and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in getting started on meditation.

Just recently I’ve noticed a lot of “noise” in life and with a mail shot from the LBC my mind turned once more to meditation as a possible way to deal with this noise. The LBC runs drop-in lunchtime sessions from 1300-1400, costing only £1. So, with Bethnal Green only a couple of Tube stops from my office in London, I decided that, this year, meetings etc allowing, if I was working in London, I would spend my lunch times at these sessions. So far I’ve managed to attend twice.

The LBC is a great little oasis of calm in a busy city and the shrine where the mediation takes place is stunning – it just has an immediate feeling of calm. It’s a bright space, the air laced with incense and the giant gold Buddha that dominates the room gives the room the sense of reverence that it deserves. Two mediation practices are taught at the LBC – “The Mindfulness of Breathing” and the Metta Bhavana. Here, I’ll give a quick outline of the mediations, but I’d advise that you do further reading around these to understand them in their context, or better still, find somewhere that will guide you through them as they’ll be able to give context and also pointers on things like posture.

The mindfulness of breathing is probably the most accessible. You simply focus on your breath which is a constant and readily available feature that you can meditate on.

Stage 1: You begin by counting at the end of each out breath – do this ten times and repeat, initially for five minutes.

Stage 2: You count at the start of each in breath – as above. This is a very subtle but definite shift in focus.

Stage 3: You drop the count but focus on the experience of breathing – how it feels, how the body moves, pretty much any experience associated with breathing.

Stage 4: You take a single element of the experience of breathing (for me it was the sensation of cold as the air hit the back of my nasal cavity) and focus on that.

Each stage was five minutes. As you practice, it is possible to extend the duration of practice, and, I guess to become less reliant on the “introductory” phases. You do (I certainly did) experience “wandering” of the mind, but the trick is to notice this and come back to the practice, but the overall aim is to reach a single point of concentration that is here and now. It is this that takes you away from thoughts of past or future, problems etc and this that helps to restore peace to our minds. It is this same principle that is applied to all “mindfulness” practice – being aware of what is happening in the moment that you are experiencing rather than letting the sometimes damaging and rampant internal dialogue that we all have from taking over our experience and making us unhappy.

The Metta Bhavana (translates as something like “Cultivating Loving Kindness”) approaches a somewhat more spiritual angle on meditation, aiming to allow us to grow compassion and understanding towards ourselves and others, which I guess is no bad thing regardless of your religious views. Again, in the introductory practice that I have undertaken, the stages are done in five minute segments, but the aim is to extend the practice as you become more experienced. During the stages, you make the following “wishes” for the subject of your mediation:

- May they be healthy

- May they be happy

- May they be free from suffering

- May they make progress.

Simple, but nice sentiments. But these are not words, you need to feel that they hold a meaning and almost picture your subjects benefitting from these sentiments.

In stages, you apply these sentiments to:

1) Yourself

2) A close friend. It is recommended that this is someone same sex and not someone that you are romantically interested or involved with.

3) Someone you know but not well – this could be a shopkeeper, postman, receptionist – the point is that this is someone that features in your daily life but you are not well acquainted with.

4) An enemy – someone that you find difficult, perhaps even “hate”.

5) You open up these sentiments to the world around you.

I find this meditation a little more difficult – my mind wanders a lot more with this and a few times I’ve even felt myself falling asleep. Also, wishing well to an enemy is an alien concept and very difficult sometimes. But I think it’s worth persisting – to acknowledge that every person has hopes, dreams, desires and a wish to be happy, just like yourself, is a useful and grounding thing to do and if it cultivates a more open persona to others, then surely that’s a good thing…? I have found it a grounding meditation, especially in the last stage - realising that you are a small part in a much bigger worl that surrounds you.

The goal of any meditation, is, as I’ve already said, to focus the mind on a single point of concentration, to stop the mind from drifting into uncontrollable thoughts about the past, which no longer exists, or the future, which doesn’t yet exist and to experience more of now. By doing this, we experience more of life, calm our minds and increase our ability to focus and concentrate.

And this is why, in my mind, Jiu Jitsu, when practiced with a right mind, is meditation. Two or three times a week I put on a gi, step onto the mats and meditate. My mind is occupied with Jiu Jitsu, its movements, its sensations and it is immediate and single pointed. That’s what mediation is and if you are so minded, it can be likened to a spiritual experience. Jiu Jitsu allows you to experience life in the moment and without distraction – how many other parts of your life can truly do that?

Sure, Jiu Jitsu is a great physical workout, but how many people really give their mind a workout….and I’m not talking arithmetic, memory, IQ type exercises, I’m talking something deeper, something more spiritual. This is why, for me, Jiu Jitsu will never be a sport, a workout or a recreational activity – it is all of those things on a physical level, but its so much more. It’s the piece of the puzzle that is far too often missing in modern life. It gives the time and space to “be”.

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