Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, is recognized as the UK's foremost mindfulness meditation expert. He shares powerful excises, stories and techniques to help calm the chatter in the mind in "Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day."
He says meditation isn't about becoming a different person. It's about training in awareness, understanding how and why we think and feel the way we do and getting a healthy sense of perspective in the process.
He was drawn to meditation or "headspace" in his early 20s because he felt his mind was permanently switched on, going round and round like a washing machine. In addition to his 'busy head' he felt as though he was always drifting into unnecessary worry, frustration and sadness.
He says he prefers the word 'headspace' because it describes the underlying sense of peace and contentment no matter what emotion might be at play. He says mindfulness is the ability to be present, meditation is the best way to learn the skill and 'headspace' is the outcome.
The theme of "Get Some Headspace" is awareness and an understanding of ourselves and others. It's about developing a gentle curiosity: watching, noticing and observing what's happening in every aspect of our life. It's about finding a sense of ease with ourselves right now, choosing how we see life and how we communicate and relate with others, cultivating kindness, compassion and appreciation towards ourselves and others and developing greater dedication, balance, equanimity, acceptance, presence and composure.
Andy says there are three components of mindfulness training: understanding how to "approach" the technique, how to behave while "practicing" the technique and how to "integrate" that quality of mind into everyday life.
I found Andy's metaphors for the mind helpful. He says the underlying essence of our mind is like a clear blue sky. When the mind is busy with thoughts and feelings the sky is temporarily obscured by the "clouds." He says the blue sky is the headspace. It's always there. Meditation is not about keeping all the clouds at bay. It's more about setting up a deck chair and watching the clouds roll by. It's resting the mind. It's not trying, not doing, just being.
A second helpful image is the mind being like a wild stallion. We need to take it slowly, be gentle and give the horse all the space it needs until it comes to a natural space of rest. If the horse struggles, just loosen the rope again slightly and gently repeat the process.
A third image is a very still clear pool of water. If we throw a pebble in the water it creates a ripple on the surface and it takes awhile for the water to settle. The pool reflects the surface of our minds. If we throw many pebbles in the water it stirs up the bottom and it's impossible to see anything at all. There's no clarity.
If we experience physical discomfort during meditation another helpful exercise is to imagine it's the discomfort of a person we care about. It's an act of extraordinary generosity to sit with their discomfort so they don't have to.
Andy says meditating just ten minutes a day increases productivity, clarity and focus, reduces stress and anxiety, and helps with weight loss, improves sleep and personal relationships.
"Get Some Headspace" (building mind-fitness) also brings us the extraordinary science behind mindfulness meditation. The research shows there is increased blood flow and physical changes in the part of the brain brain that helps to control emotions and behavior. Studies show mindfulness training can be an effective treatment for addictions and eating disorders, enhance peak performance in stressful circumstances, halve the time it takes to get to sleep, improve cognitive skills and alertness, activate parts of the brain related to happiness and reduce the intensity of negative emotions, anxiety and the harmful effects of stress. Mindfulness lowers blood pressure and heart rate and increases oxygen consumption.
"Get Some Headspace" is a must read for beginners and seasoned mindfulness students. I highly recommend this book.