In the last post I contemplated the importance of a sense of stability in difficult times and how we might help ourselves feel more grounded and settled.
The meditations that we have been following together this week have offered us the opportunity to develop anchors within our practice to enhance our capacity to be present within the storm.
This post looks in more detail at this important concept.
My mother has dementia and at times does not recognise her own home. The other day she was talking about how ‘at sea’ she felt when she then looked over at a dresser in her living room and mentioned how the dresser, with all its plates and ornaments, helped her to know where she was – she said that it kept her anchored.
Eighteen months ago my father died and she lost the person who had always been there for her, a constant part of her life – her main anchor.
A boat when it comes into a harbor is always tied up to a mooring, a permanent anchor, to keep it safe. When any boat sets sail regulations stipulate that the boat must carry two anchors. In times of difficulty the crew can then stabilize the boat and plan what course of action they need to take.
Anyone who meditates will know that the mind easily drifts away from the present.
We use anchors to keep us focused; when we realise that our concentration has drifted we return to the anchor, we return to the present.
In any practice we always settle ourselves first and develop a sense of presence. We arrive. We bring our attention to rest on an anchor in order to do this.
One could liken this time to placing a camera on a tripod. When the camera is steady it can take a clear picture, when we are steady we can get a clear sense of ourselves and our situation.
What anchors might you find helpful to use in your meditation?
You can use a wide range of anchors; part of your body, something within the environment and, at times you may choose to use words and images as well.
An anchor is part of the present moment. The suitability of each anchor will vary depending on the practice you are doing and how you are feeling.
The breath is frequently used in guided practices, however, when we are particularly anxious it may be more helpful to use our feet on the floor or on an external object such as a candle in order to settle. A future post will look in more detail at the benefits of using our breath in meditations.
- The body
The body is always with us wherever we go and so parts of the body are commonly used as anchors. For example: our feet in contact with the ground, our bottom and legs in contact with the surface beneath us, our hands on our lap and of course the breath as it moves through our body.
- The environment
Mindfulness is about being fully alive and in touch with our senses. Our senses are always available to us in any situation just like our body and we can focus on any one of them to stabilize ourselves.
We can focus on an object or a view, become aware of sounds around us, notice tastes in our mouth, the fragrances in the air, or perhaps the touch of a blanket around us.
Looking at a candle or listening to bird song can be a good idea when our mind is too lively or our body is too painful for us to settle our attention upon.
- Words and images
We can use a simple word, a sentence or indeed counting to help keep our attention on our breath. In this way words can act as a second anchor while we settle into a practice. We can also use a simple mantra.
At times an image such as a mountain, a lake or perhaps a tree can be bought in to our imagination and the image can become an anchor. You will notice me using these in the various recordings available to you.
Which anchor should you choose?
Different anchors will be helpful at different times and the invitation is always for you to use the one that suits you in the practice that you are doing.
There is no need to always follow the one used in the guidance if this does not support you.
I invite you to listen carefully to the guidance in each practice to begin with and use the anchors suggested; in time you will find the ones that serve you best.
Highlighting your anchor
Our mind is curious and constantly on the lookout for new things to focus on. As we know we can very easily get distracted.
The more curious and interested we are about the present moment the more we will stay focused. We need therefore to develop a sense of curiosity for the anchor we choose; we need to highlight it, put a red flag on it.
Buoys that are used for boats to moor up to in open water are always brightly coloured, or have a flag attached to them, so that they can easily be seen.
Another term that I sometimes use instead of an anchor is ‘base camp’. When people climb Everest they first of all establish base camp so that they have a safe place to return to after exploring the mountain.
I remember when the children were small we used to make a base camp on the beach so that they always knew where to come back to.
A final thought
The beauty of practising mindfulness is that it cultivates our ability to be present in our daily life.
When we practice with a wide range of anchors whatever we are doing, wherever we are, we will always be able to anchor ourselves to some aspect of the present and therefore bring a sense of stability right into the middle of daily life; in the midst of times of difficulty in order to cope and in the midst of joy in order to savour.
Be creative with your practice; be creative with your use of anchors. Always remember, the more you practice being present, the more you will have the chance to be alive to each moment and life is likely to become less stressful and more enjoyable.
Serenity is not freedom from the storm but peace within the storm.
Ralph Waldo Emerson