“All that has happened to me in the past, is still happening. Past, present and future are still happening in the eternity, which is here and now”.
Closure, by James Broughton.
Alone with a piece of chocolate.
Trying to eat it in a way we have never done before…
As if we did not know what kind of object it is, what we have in our hands right now.
Handling it with our fingers…
Handling it with curiosity, and respect.
Is it soft, is it hard? What texture does it have…? Is it smooth, is it rugged? Is it sticky…?
How does it look, what shape does it have, what colour is it…?
Does it have any smell?
What happens when we put it close to our ear? Does it make any sound by itself…? How does it sound when we rub it against the skin of our ear…?
We can pass it gently along our lips. What sensations are we having right now…? Is it starting to melt already…?
Now, we proceed to put it inside our mouth, and start playing with it with our tongue.
What taste does it have…? Sweet, sour, salty? A mix…?
Is it cold, is it warm?
Do we let it melt in our mouth, or do we start biting it with our teeth…?
Are we aware of what happens while we are swallowing it…?
The object is not in our mouth any more. Is anything left there…? A flavour, a particular sensation, something we cannot describe, or just nothing at all…?
What type of experience has it been…?
Has it been different from other times when we’ve eaten chocolate on our own, with family, with friends, with a lover, with our partner…?
As occurred in the exercise with the raisin, this is an example of what happens when we step out of automatic pilot, which we are in quite often in our lives.
When we put awareness and full attention into what we are doing at the present moment, a whole new world of sensations opens to us.
Welcome to the challenge.
Feeling connected to the earth, feeling grounded, feeling rooted.
The wind blowing in your face.
Listening to the sound of water, the power of water, water falling into the void.
Blending with nature.
Becoming merged with it.
By Manuel Grau (in the picture), founder at MindfulGay
The call to community: Waking up in the community of others
Bob Stahl explains how mindfulness can also be applied to eating through the raisin meditation or raisin exercise and transfer this practice to everything done in daily life.
Andrew Ramer is a poet, novelist, and a maggid (a sacred Jewish story teller). Born in New York, he now lives in San Francisco, California, where he is an active member of an historically LGBTQ synagogue, a spiritual counselor for a Mennonite church, and teaches in the Jewish Studies and Social Justice Program at a Jesuit university.
Spirituality and more specifically gay spirituality is a vital component in his life, and he has been actively involved in several communities such as the Gay Spirit Visions conference in North California and the New York Healing Circle.
For several years he wrote a column on spiritual practice for White Crane Journal and has published several books ranging from novels to books on angels, gay erotic anthologies and short stories.
Andrew writes about himself: “You will find in my writing a range of voices, some my own and some received, a term I prefer to ‘channeled´”.
The best known among all the books he has written is Two Flutes Playing (Lethe Press, 2005).
In the book, he reviews and stresses the importance of mythology for gay men, and the reality of the existence of the gay tribe as a unique group of men who love men that has to regain its place in history and everyday society.
Talking about the book, Andrew Ramer says: “(…) I want to speak here of the saints and heroes of the gay tribes. For this is a period of human history that has been lost through time, whose return is vitally needed. For you know the heroes of the other tribes. But of this small, sacred tribe, whose history has been obscured, you remember nothing”.
Andrew Ramer is one of the gay writers and intellectuals portrayed and interviewed in Mark Thompson’s book, Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature (Harper, 1994).
He can be found online at http://www.andrewramer.com.
“The most important thing we can tell each other as gay men is that we are here for a reason and all of us know what the reason is. We know when we sit with ourselves and notice who we are, what we do, and what we bring to the world. There´s a line from a Native American medicine chant that says: ‘You bring to all of life your special touch’. We gay men know what our special touch is”.
Andrew Ramer, North American gay writer and story teller.
Mindful yoga or mindful movement is one of the formal meditation practices used in MBSR – Mindfulness-based stress reduction.
People frequently wonder what yoga, or movement in general, has to do with meditation.
The purpose of it is to bring awareness to movement. Being conscious of what is happening to our body, and in our body when we move.
Although we call it yoga, it is not exactly yoga. It takes movements and postures from that discipline, but also from qi gong, tai chi, dance, or even from everyday life, and adds an element of awareness and consciousness to it…
It can be done standing or lying down. Most of the time it is done with our eyes open, but some movements can also be performed with our eyes closed, what may deliver a different dimension to the movement.
Do we have to be extremely fit in order to do the different movements? Not at all! This is the beauty of it, there´s always some sort of movement that every one of us can do. It doesn´t matter if we exercise regularly or not, if we have our four limbs or not, if our mobility is impaired or not. It is a matter of being aware of that particular movement, at that particular time, even if it is barely a movement.
It is not a competition between the people in the room, nor a competition with ourselves, it is just a matter of living the moment, experiencing our experience, as we do when we practice sitting meditation or the body scan.
Listening and self respect are also vital here.
Listening to corporal signs, listening to what our body is telling us… How far can we reach? When do we have to stop? When do we have to go back to the starting position?
Self respect: we all have to learn how to respect our body, and be aware of our limits.
Limits that differ from person to person; limits that within ourselves may vary from day to day, or even, from moment to moment…
While we practice mindful yoga or mindful movement, nothing else exists. Ourselves, our bodies, that particular movement, experiencing it, listening to it, embodying it….
We may have raised our hands and arms thousands of times in our life, but when we do it with awareness, we reach a new dimension that probably we never thought could exist.
Walking is something we all do every day. But in most cases, we do it automatically, without thinking on the added value it can bring us.
Jon Kabat-Zin wanted to give a new meaning to walking, so he introduced the walking meditation within the formal practices that form the MBSR – Mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Practicing walking meditation is as simple as walking, but while you do it, you can add to the meditation other stimuli, p.e., what you see, what you feel, the smells, the feel of your feet when they get in touch with the ground… what you should avoid is not to try getting caught for other thoughts that alienate us from cultivating our inner observation.
It may be difficult at the beginning: for many years we have used our legs mechanically likely you could even feel awkward during the activity. You can set your eyes straight ahead or you can look down and see how the foot up from the floor and back down, and feel the rhythm of your steps.
Any time is good for practicing walking meditation: in small displacements, at home, in a park, in the way to or back from work … there’s always a good chance to make that path a chance to meditate. Walking as a practice itself, try not to treat it as a further goal, as we usually do during our busy daily life.
Take your time. Do not run. Only wander without looking for a goal, not a destination, without the intention of reaching a particular location. If, for example, you put it into practice during a journey that you are used to do it in 5 minutes, allow yourself to do it in double time and practice walking meditation for 10 minutes.
Before starting practice, think about breathing slowly during those two or three initial steps to accustom your body and mind to this new way of walking. The soles should focus your attention: be aware of the contact between them and the ground you walk on.
You have to control your breathing. Make it mild and slow. It will help you to reduce the effects of stress and facilitate meditation. Make deep but slow breaths inhaling air through the nose and exhaling through your mouth.
And, most important advice: do it lively. Don’t think about a minimum or maximum time for practicing this meditation. And at the end, take a moment for reflect on what you have done, how through the practice, you have found serenity, peace, inner joy.
When we hear the term body scan, it can conjure up all sorts of thoughts and mental associations.
Body scan is one of the formal meditation practices which are part of mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR, and it is the first kind of meditation which is taught in the MBSR course.
It is a type of lying down meditation in which we focus our attention on the different parts of our body, in a systematic way.
Usually it is done lying down on a mat , with our arms parallel to the body. But it can also be done sitting down, or adopting other positions like, the astronaut pose (body on the floor, and knees bent on a chair).
While we do the body scan, our eyes are usually closed, but if this makes us feel uncomfortable, or we feel that we are falling asleep, we can leave them open.
While we are lying down, relaxation can occur, but it’s not the ultimate goal of this meditation. Throughout the exercise, we are invited to stay alert and awake. But again, if we happen to fall asleep, it is okay, we just resume the exercise in the part of the body where we were just before our attention drifted away.
We do not pretend to change anything, or achieve any particular goal, just being aware of how we are and what we feel as we check each area of our bodies.
In the body scan, we go through the different parts of the body, acknowledging what is happening in that particular point, in that particular moment. Accepting whatever sensation or feeling we may have, or accepting (why not?) that there is no particular sensation or feeling.
We move our awareness through the different parts of our body, following a particular order, but there is no one best way of doing it. We can start from the toes and end on the head, or the other way around.
Again as what happens with sitting meditation, it is a matter of experiencing the experience, accepting whatever is there for us in the here and now.
Finding some time for oneself…
What a difficult thing to do in a fast-paced world like the one we live in…
We all deserve some time for us. Time in which we will not be disturbed. No phone, no interruptions, just ourselves.
It is not easy. There are always other things to do. The current in which we are all immersed is too strong…
In order to get some consistency and commitment, effort and discipline may be needed.
At the beginning it can be just five minutes. Five minutes to start with.
We can sit indoors or outdoors. We can sit on the floor, on a cushion, or on a chair. Sitting in an upright position, in a dignified posture.
We can place our hands on our lap, or on our thighs, whatever feels best for us.
We start by focusing our attention on our breathing. Breathing in, and breathing out. Feeling our abdomen how it expands with the in breath, and how it retracts with the out breath.
Nothing else exists. Just the breathing. The air going in and out.
All kind of thoughts will try to capture our attention. Thoughts, feelings, emotions… It’s okay. No guilt, no judgments. Just being aware of it, and going back to our breathing.
Once more, our mind starts wandering… Just being conscious of it, and gently returning our attention to the breathing.
It is not a struggle, nor a competition with one self or others.
It is an encounter with the now, with the present moment, with ourselves.
All of a sudden, we realize that the time is over. We may have the feeling that our mind has been wandering all the time. That we haven’t done it right, that something has failed, that this was not made for us…
We may feel discouraged, or even disappointed.
No expectations here… Just letting things flow, trusting, experiencing the experience…
Whatever it might be, wherever it may lead us…
As John Kabat Zinn says: “Try for a few years and see what happens…”.
You may already be familiar to what MBSR stands for, and know that these four letters mean Mindfulness-based stress reduction.
As you already know, it was created by Jon Kabat-Zin in the late seventies. Although it is based in Buddhist meditation principles, the course it’s structured throughout 8 weeks, and its main aim is to reduce stress and to give you tools to bring awareness to your life moment by moment.
The main meditation practices that are used in the course are sitting meditation, body scan, walking meditation, and mindful yoga, also known as mindful movement.
Those are different types of what is known as formal practice. In all of them the main anchor or object of awareness, at least at the beginning, is the breath. As Jon Kabat-Zin says: “Try it for a few years and see what happens”.
Informal practices are also introduced. This means bringing attention to different activities that we all usually do in our daily life, like eating, brushing our teeth or washing the dirty dishes.
Sessions are complemented with weekly practice at home listening to Cds and using reading material.
When a group is established at the beginning of the course a bond and a commitment is created.
A bond between the facilitator and the participants, and also among the participants themselves which will develop and grow as the course goes on. It is like weaving a patchwork quilt between all the participants of the course including the facilitator.
A commitment to attend all the classes for the benefit of one self and the rest. And a commitment to do the home practice during the week after each session.
Many questions can come to our minds before starting an MBSR Course.
Do I need to be an experienced meditator? Not at all. It’s not about perfection, nor about competing with yourself or others. It’s as simple as focusing on the breath, and going back to it every time the mind wanders. It is about befriending something as familiar as the breath, which has been with us since our birth, and that will be with us until we die, but that frequently we are not aware it’s there.
Do I have to have practiced yoga in order to do mindful movement? Not at all. Mindful movement focuses on being aware of our body when it moves. It can be as simple as raising your eyebrows, or moving your feet.
What benefits can I get by doing the course? You will get to understand stress better and how to reduce it. You will learn how to deal with thoughts, emotions and feelings in a more skillful way.
I want to thank Manuel for introducing me and leading me towards the awareness of the present moment.
Sharing the experience with other guys has been a revelation. The best: the meditations, listening to Manuel, and the magical energy that has surrounded us the entire time. It has been really special……!!!
For me, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR) has been a great discovery. A revealing experience that changed my life right from the start. The fact that we all are gay men creates a relaxing feeling of togetherness that makes learning and acknowledging much easier. Manuel is a wonderful teacher and friend, who knows how to perfectly convey everything he has been learning and made his own from the Mindfulness universe during the past few years. He has great sensitivity and enthusiasm, as well as a great talent to guide and manage the group. You are lucky if you are able to attend and enjoy this course.
I am not a perfect student. I am easily distracted, I have a short span of attention. I am judgmental and my reactions are often habit driven. So there were lots of things I wanted to work on, to improve. But this course is not about making yourself a better person. It’s about knowing and loving yourself, accepting and appreciating. The only goal is there are no goals. By gently coaxing us to stop and listen to ourselves, Manuel makes us aware of just how extraordinary the ordinary can be, and suddenly life is better. It’s an awakening.
I enrolled on the MBSR Course as somebody very dear to me recommended me to do it. At the beginning it was a trip to the unknown, and little by little it has enveloped me. You learn something from every experience in life, and this particular experience has helped me to understand life in a more conscious and intense way. I especially want to point out the enthusiasm and vocation of our instructor, Manuel. I want to thank him for teaching us and transmitting his passion for the world of mindfulness to us.
This Mindfulness Course led by Manuel has been an authentic experience for me, as I had never experienced these incredible sensations of living mindfully in the present moment. Both the practice of sitting meditation and the body scan are really helping me to appreciate my feelings, thoughts and states of mind more intensely and more consciously.
I would never had imagined that the fact that this is an activity for gay men would be so pleasant, as one can feel this special and unique energy that only us gay men can give off. There is an atmosphere of connection, peace and wellness among us, that makes it highly recommendable for any gay man.
I wanted to say a few words about Manuel Grau, who is our teacher and guide in this course. He is an extraordinary person, and admirable for his work in this field. He carries it out with skill, reliability and much professionalism. Each session is taught masterfully, making us discover the message with ease and confidence.
This course is completely new for me, which makes it enriching, exciting, and very stimulating, as I see the results day by day.
Having Manuel as my teacher gives me much peace as he is a great communicator, he has a lot of patience and he transmits peace…..
The fact of being in a group of gay men was something which was not relevant at the beginning, but I have found out that I feel much more relaxed, as I know that we, gay men, have something in common: a special sensitivity and feeling that we are all going in the same direction. That makes me feel great.
Thanks so much for everything.
First of all, I would like to express how thankful I am for having had the fortune to meet Manuel Grau at a certain moment in time.
Based on his generosity and in-depth training, Manuel has managed to bring us closer to the world of Kabat-Zinn and other masters, as his approach to Mindfulness draws from many different sources without us realising it.
This approach has been condensed into 8 sessions, which have motivated us to improve our mindful positioning to tackle the challenges that we face in our daily lives.
Complicity and trust are the best allies for this important challenge and it is in this aspect where Manuel, thanks to the male group synergy favoured by him, manages to involve us even more, if possible.
His dedication and preparation are like a renewing energy in our lives, where there is room for this mindfulness and it is this mindful and renewing energy that I hope will be the beginning of something even better.
Many thanks, Manuel, for your generous and patient dedication, which is a source of inspiration and admiration.
For me, Mindfulness is a good tool to make a stop on my journey and encounter myself again.
I give thanks to Manuel for starting me off on my journey, which, for me is stabilising and sustaining in all aspects of life.
My experience in this Mindfulness course-workshop has been really enriching, as it has taught me about meditating from a different perspective, supported by a series of exercises to favour tranquillity and be mindful about the here and now (the present moment).
All of this has been possible thanks to the work, dedication and expertise of our guide in this course-workshop, Manuel Grau. Without him, it would not have been the same.
I must also highlight that as the workshop was aimed at gay men, the climate created was very special.
Thanks for helping us to be better individuals.
Mindfulness has become a popular topic in the last few years. It has been the subject of numerous television programs, magazines and books. An example of this, is one of this year’s cover stories for Time magazine which was titled The Mindful revolution.
Numerous courses and workshops with mindfulness as the main subject are sprouting in many countries around the world.
In spite of the term is familiar to many of us, do we know what does Mindfulness really mean?
The word Mindfulness comes from the translation of the word sati in Pali, the language in which the teachings of Buddha were originally recorded.
The term connotes awareness, attention and remembering.
Just by becoming aware of what is occurring within and around us, we can begin to entangle ourselves from mental preoccupations and difficult emotions.
By redirecting attention, rather than trying to control or suppress intense emotions, we can regulate how we feel.
Another aspect of Mindfulness is remembering. This does not refer to memory of the past events. Rather it means remembering to be aware and pay attention.
It was Thich Nhat Hanh, zen master, spiritual leader and world renowned author, who used it for the first time in his book The miracle of Mindfulness, a letter he wrote to his disciples in Vietnam, when he was in exile, reminding them the importance of the practice of breathing and constant awareness to the present moment in order to achieve peace.
Years later Jon Kabat Zinn, a PhD in Molecular Biology, introduced Mindfulness meditation in Medicine. He was the first who realized the potential use of mindfulness in the treatment of chronic medical conditions, and adapted it into the structured eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in 1979.
He first created the Stress Reduction Clinic which later evolved into the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society. For more than 30 years he and his team have worked on the integration of Mindfulness meditation and other Mindfulness-based approaches in mainstream medicine and healthcare.
Although Mindfulness is based on Buddhist Meditation principles, it is taught in a secular environment, completely devoid of a religious connotation.
Mindfulness stress reduction is now offered in numerous medical centers, hospitals and medical organizations throughout the world to help patients cope with stress, anxiety, pain and illness.
For some time Mindfulness has gone beyond the realms of Medicine, and it is being used in diverse fields such as education, social work, law firms and law schools, and in the corporate world with companies like Google, Target, Asana or Medium, which uses it with their employees.
Stress is an element that forms part of our lives.
Even if we don’t want to admit it, this is an statement that is true for every single one of us.
We live in a fast paced world where we have little time for ourselves, to reduce our speed, to listen to ourselves, to listen to our inner voice.
We, gay and bisexual men, are especially prone to lead stressful lives with additional issues that many of us carry in our backpacks: these can be high demanding jobs, present or past coming out issues, homophobia, a past history of bullying, the need to keep fit and beautiful, trying to find our place in a predominantly straight world or, why not, trying to find our place among other gay men.
For our own sake, we should slow down and release some of this unnecessary burden.
In MindfulGay we want to share with you ways to reduce our pace, to be able to respond more skillfully, to learn how to live in the present, moment by moment, to lead a happier stress-free life.
MindfulGay is a platform for gay and bisexual men. A place where we can learn. A place where we can call home, a place where we can be ourselves and be safe and secure.
Our workshops and courses are based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program initially created by Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachussets 35 years ago.
Numerous articles and scientific studies show the benefits of Mindfulness and MBSR techniques to reduce stress and improve the quality of life.
Why should there be a Mindfulness workshop or course just for gay men? When we, men who like men, gather together, we share a common energy that empowers us as members of a group or tribe: our group, our tribe.
Our aim is to promote Mindfulness Meditation and MBSR techniques, offering 3 and 5 days workshops, in different locations throughout the world. The different events and locations will be announced on the MindfulGay website.
At the present moment the full 8 week MBSR Course will only be offered in Spain, in the cities of Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.
As we live in a global society, the workshops and courses can be given in English, Spanish, French or German.
One to one sessions are also offered, allowing for greater flexibility and a more personalized attention.
Through our blog we want to create an space where gay and bisexual men can find information about Mindfulness, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and other methods to reduce stress. We also want to be a place where gay men can learn and share ideas about gay spirituality.
We invite you to stay tuned, to participate.
Helps us build a mindful and spiritual community!