So hello and welcome to our first meditation lab here in the beautiful Hortus Botanicus gardens in Leiden. Today’s lab is going to be a little different from those that will follow. So we can make sure that setup is clear for you, and we’ll spend a little time talking about what these labs are for, and then some time talking about some common questions people often have at the start of a practical course like this one. Things like, how am I supposed to sit? What happens if I can’t do it? Do I really need to sit in a botanical garden in Leiden?
Or is it okay if I sit on my bed, in the kitchen, on the floor, at work and so on? And finally, I’m going to introduce you to some of the practices we’re going to try in this module, which include the now famous body scan, a simple sitting meditation, and a less formal mindfulness of a routine activity practice. In future modules, we’ll also make use of these labs to reflect back on what we might have experienced in the previous modules. I hope that makes some sort of sense.
The basic rationale for this set up is that it quite closely mirrors the way in which a standard MBSR or mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBCT, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy course, would be structured if you followed one of those. One of the big differences, of course, is that we’re not all sitting together in the same room able to talk about what emerges as it emerges or able to support each other spontaneously as we go along. During formal programs, this sort of time for discussion and investigation guided by a suitable teacher is often called inquiry. And sometimes, it’s just as valuable to practitioners as the practices themselves can be.
So I’m going to do my best in these little sessions to address some of the most common issues that arise during inquiry. But I really encourage all of you to make use of the community building features in this course in order to form some groups, some support groups, perhaps in which you can discuss your experiences and anything else that happens during practice. Alternatively or even better in addition, you might think about finding other people in your local area who are following this course and try sitting with them on a regular basis. Even though meditation can be rather solitary and self-sufficient, doing it in company can be really supportive and enriching.
Perhaps you might convince a friend or a family member to follow this course with you. One of the other really big differences between this MOOC experience and one you might have if you’re attending a class in a physical space each week is the simple fact of time. If your MBSR or MBCT classes were scheduled for a couple of hours each week say, then you would automatically be following a course on an eight week cycle, spending a week with certain practices including homework before moving onto the next. And surprisingly, the timeframe for these formal courses has been really quite carefully worked out based on experience and evidence.
So I would encourage you to spend at least a week on the exercises in each of our meditation labs before moving on to the next. You’ll then be doing the equivalent of that eight-week course in about five weeks or so. So it’s good to remember that the purpose of these labs is to experience practice or to practice experience and indeed to participate in practice. So you’ll learn most from them if you take the time to participate fully and properly, and you’ll learn really little from them if you just listen to the guidance, try it once and then move on to the next module.
Your purpose here is not to zip through to the end in order to say that you’ve completed the course. Your purpose should be to experience the material and yourself, as we work through the different exercises. Take your time. Be gentle with yourself and be patient. So having said all this, what are these labs going to look like? Well, in general, in each module, you’ll be introduced to at least two mindfulness practices for which you will also be provided with audio guidance. I suggest that you set aside at least an hour of your time to try this material for the first time and then suggest that you give yourself a week to experiment with it each day.
Perhaps reserving about 30 minutes, 20 minutes per day for these practices. You might find it helpful to think at the start about how you’re going to fit this into your day. When are you going to do the practices and where? You might be someone who likes to wake up early, and so you can fit in 20 minutes before breakfast. Or you might hate waking up early, and so you’d prefer to practice just before bed at night, or both, or neither. The crucial thing here is that there’s no objectively right time to practice, there’s just the time and place that’s best for you. So it might take some time to experiment and to find out when this is.
So think about it. Talk about it with your friends and then make a choice. You can and should experiment a little with all these things, but you should make a commitment right now that you’re going to find the time to do this. And if you suddenly realize that you don’t have the time to do this, perhaps you should think again about whether this is actually the right time for you to try to follow this course. You can always come back another time when you’re really able to fit it in. The last thing you want is for your commitment to practice to become itself a source of stress and anxiety for you.
So I think that’s enough for the preliminaries in these labs. Let’s take a little break now and then come back and talk about how we can get started with module one’s practices.