This article was originally published on my blog Wantrepreneur, on 20 January 2017.
Roya Hekmatpanah teaches mindfulness courses and has a well established meditation practice of her own. She has kindly agreed to be interviewed as part of my #2017habits series. It's January, and my habit for this month is mindfulness.
What is mindfulness to you?
RH: Mindfulness to me is actually a way of being. That has probably evolved since I started my practice. Whereas initially it was more of a tool that I relied on when I felt stressed or I felt I needed it, now, it’s actually through learning more about it, and learning more about myself, it’s an alternative way of being.
Describe your mindfulness practice.
RH: My mindfulness practice has evolved. It started off – the key word you said, actually, is ‘practice’, because I think initially I didn’t realize it was a practice, and I was meditating once a week when I went to a course. Then I faced some personal challenges in my life, and while that was going on, I found myself really craving mindfulness, and – because the course had stopped at that time – I found myself really missing it. When I went back to the course after that period, that was when it became an actual practice for me. Today, it’s a daily thing, and as I said, it’s also a way of being, so it’s not just a daily thing in the sense of sitting for five minutes, or ten minutes, or half an hour a day, it’s how I respond, how I understand myself, how I understand how my mind works. It’s understanding that I have choices.
Do you have any set techniques or routines?
RH: Personally I don’t use any apps, potentially due to the way I was introduced to it. I didn’t have any experience of meditation or mindfulness prior to starting the course I did, so I was always led by an instructor, and actually, about six months into that practice, my teacher asked if he could train me so I could teach others, and my personal practice stepped up from there. It’s always been just using those techniques that I learned, which is essentially just awareness of the breath. So to answer your question, I don’t have a particular time, or a particular place, where I meditate. It’s twofold, again, because it permeates your whole life, in terms of the conscious moments that I choose to tune into the breath. That could be at my desk at work, when I can feel physiologically that I’m getting stressed, so maybe that’s stress that I’m feeling in my stomach, or I notice my breathing has changed. Often, it’s walking to and from work, when I choose to tune into the breath, and on the tube on the way here. It really varies, but the basis of my method is to tune into the breath wherever I am, and a couple of times a week, I will sit for half an hour, and actually consciously do that on my own in a room, in a quiet place where I’m not going to be interrupted.
How did you get into mindfulness in the first place?
RH: I didn’t think I was actively looking for mindfulness. I’d heard a lot about it, I’d heard the word, but I didn’t really have any understanding of what it was about. I actually just saw an advert in a local paper for a local group, and I honestly can’t tell you what made me go to that. Potentially, the more relevant question is ‘why did I stick with it?’. As I mentioned earlier, when I faced some challenges in my life, I found myself really craving it. I don't think I'd realized what an effect it had had on me. And so when I went back to it, (and I say this loosely - I don't know what it's all about yet, I'm still a novice) but as I started to realise how vast it was, I started learning so much about myself and understanding how the mind works, what goes on in the mind by analyzing what happens throughout your meditation, and that offered me some massive awakenings, and lifted some massive burdens. As I said, it is now moving toward a way of being. I’m not saying that I’m consistently nailing life with this technique! But I’m definitely more aware of my reactions to things, of how my body feels, of how I feel emotionally.
You cannot be bad at this. The fact you're doing it is enough. Persevere with it, because what it will bring you is worth it. - Roya
What tips would you give to someone who is starting their own mindfulness practice?
RH: You almost just gave the tip in your own words! I say this to everyone I practice with: the term ‘mindfulness’ is everywhere at the moment, it’s become very commercialized and popular – and that’s a really good thing – because the more people who are aware of it and who practice it, the better. However, there’s not necessarily a deep understanding beneath the term and I think meditation conjours an image of serenity and feeling very relaxed, and feeling at peace with oneself – sort of like a vacation.
[Claire] I also associate it with religious orders like Bhuddist monks and serene, higher consciousness-type beings. I find it hard to connect with that.
RH: This path: choosing to have a practice like this is not easy. Those people that you’ve just mentioned have left society. It is a lot easier to sit on a mountain and meditate when you’re surrounded by silence and nature and beautiful scenery. Or if you’re a nun and you’re slightly removed – whatever it is, you’re not directly in comparison to the person next to you any more and all the pressures that society today puts on you. So to come back to my point: it is hard, and I think that understanding that it’s hard and knowing that is totally normal and you’re not failing at meditation if you’re finding it hard, is part of the process. Meditating is finding it hard and choosing to come back to the breath. That is the 'weight'.
When you’re in the gym and you’re lifting the weight repeatedly to build that muscle, that thought pulling you away every time from what you perceive to be your meditation and you making a conscious choice to come back to your breath – that is the weight that is training your mind. So embrace that process, and know it’s normal for it to be difficult, and that you are still benefiting despite the fact that you are finding it difficult. Sometimes, it’s the times when you find it the most difficult to sit down that you need it the most. And it takes a bit of time to still the mind. If you’re using Headspace or Calm or something similar, some of their meditations are only five minutes, but actually, it can take ten minutes just for your mind to quieten down before you can go a bit further and perhaps feel some of the more enjoyable elements of meditation. So my message to anyone is that you cannot be bad at this. The fact you’re doing it is enough, and persevere with it, because what it will bring you is worth it.
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