This weeks class: MIDL 48/52: Mindfulness of touch
This weeks class: MIDL 48/52: Mindfulness of touch
MY LIFE JOURNEY SO FAR
Hi, my name is Stephen Procter, since a very young age I had a fascination with martial arts and meditation, I was attracted to the idea that we had the potential to better ourselves, to mold the type of person that we could become. To my young mind the idea that we had the power to shape ourselves served as a strong attraction and led to the starting of my study. It has been a long and enjoyable journey, now spanning 40 years, one that I look forward to continuing each day. I want to share my passion with you, the ability for you to create who you are, to become responsible for your own physical and mental health and to live a long and happy life.
MEDITATION: EARLY YEARS
When I was about 12, I came across a book on meditation that I bought at a school fete, the book pointed towards the potential to enter into heightened states of consciousness through very deep relaxation techniques. I can remember being impressed when the author spoke about being able to have teeth extracted without any pain killers and without feeling pain, all he used was the meditation techniques.
This fascinated me and I started to practice it, I can still remember spending many hours laying in my parents back yard and also sitting on a rock down in the bush behind their home, experimenting with these techniques. I can remember entering into some quite deep relaxing states and felt them to be a refuge from my day to day life, I continued these techniques for many years but started searching in the direction of discipline in martial arts.
This was being driven by intense bullying at school, at the time it felt like a bad thing, but now looking back I can see that it created the drive that got me to the point I am at today. Discomfort in life is often the first manifestation of the chance for something new and beautiful to arise, though I could not see that at the time.
My first proper study of martial arts started at the age of 13 when I started studying judo, I thoroughly enjoyed it and practiced at any opportunity I had, I can remember practicing shoulder rolls and falls on the lawn at my parents place, also throws and holds on any friends that would let me. By the end of the year I entered my first competition and won on points, as satisfying as it was I felt a desire to explore the inner development of martial arts and how they can improve your life, this attracted me more than the path of competition
During my early teens as most boys I discovered girls and was distracted from training, I restarted my study at nineteen going from judo to jujitsu. I absolutely loved jujitsu, it had the beauty of judo but with more tools, I felt safer studying this art and can remember practicing shadow movements of the throws for hours whenever I couldn’t get a partner to train with. I was my mother’s son, she taught us to love sports and to give everything 100%, to be the best we could at anything we did. I studied Jujitsu under two different teachers, unfortunately I cannot remember their names, but the ethic they left with me for discipline and self study has carried on. It was during my study of jujitsu that I also came in contact with my first meditation and tai chi instruction; this gave me a taste of more internal arts that I was not yet to pursue but which stayed with me my whole life.
WING CHUN STUDY
At the age of 22 I was fortunate to hear about a teacher instructing Vin Tsun Wing Chun in a garage, students went there by word of mouth, the training was intense and teacher was highly skilled and inspirational. The teacher was Barry Lee, he was unknown at that time, I felt like I had come home and this training enveloped my life, my wife often commented that the relationship was like a religion. I guess it could be said that my devotion to Barry and his skilled teaching was like that, but I fell in love with the intense traditional training, long hours and the potential to gain high skill that he demonstrated every day.
I trained under him for eight and a half years until he moved overseas, I continued on a while longer but it wasn’t the same without his direct teaching. Also around this time that I noticed the effect that this aggressive style of fighting was having on me, I noticed that I was superbly fit on the outside but ill on the inside. I didn't like the person I was becoming, this created an attraction towards meditation and it wasn't long before it became my new path of study.
At this time I came in contact with Buddhism and started Buddhist meditation at the age of 26, I felt like I had come home and before long my wife and myself were doing nine day meditation retreats every chance we got. Meditation made me less aggressive and I drifted away from traditional martial arts and started studying internal development. I found that the internal journey needed the same discipline or even more then external martial arts but that the internal path was even higher and took more skill to climb.
I devoted my life to this internal study and at the age of 29 my wife and I left everything and started working at Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre west of Sydney as live in managers running intensive meditation retreats. In this environment even while working we managed to meditate at least eight hours a day, and this allowed our meditation practice to progress and become ingrained. We had a wonderful life there but three and a half years later we decided we wanted to do more intensive practice then we could get in Australia. So we left this job and went to a monastery in Myanmar (Burma) on a meditation visa and studied under Sayadaw U Kundala, a high level Monk and did an intensive three month silent meditation retreat sleeping two to four hours a day.
Every moment we were awake was spent meditating, studying the mind, it was a wonderful opportunity and one I will always be grateful for. After three months we had to leave because of illness, so we returned back to Australia and worked at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre for a while, but things had changed, my parents were getting older and so we decided it would be best if we moved back to Sydney so we could help take care of them.
MEDITATION IN DAILY LIFE
We settled into normal lives again, it took a while after the four years living monastery style life and it was a bumpy road settling back into the day to day grind where internal culture and mental health was not valued. It was at this time that I came in contact with Tai Chi, I wanted something that I could continue my meditation and mindfulness in daily life but also a way I could get my body physically fit again.
The tai chi helped me return to health and practice some mindfulness in movement, but during this period I found it difficult to sustain my formal Mindfulness practice during my everyday life. The difference was that in the monastery style of life people were genuinely trying to be nice people: kindness, generosity, gentleness, mindfulness of action and speech were valued. Here I was back in Sydney, the focus was more on excitement, money and "what is in it for me?". This was a turbulent time, my meditation practice fell apart, I tried very hard to sustain it in the middle of this craziness’ but using the traditional form of Mindfulness Meditation I was practicing it was not possible.
ABUSE: THE GREATEST GIFT
During this time the greatest gift I have ever received came into my life, in the workplace that I now worked there was an office psychopath, someone intent on creating suffering and finding fault in others while making themselves look good. All my meditation practice at this stage collapsed, daily I was going to work and daily I was being shouted at, abused, belittled and daily I found myself feeling sick, anxious and depressed. It reached the stage where I was sick to the stomach every single day, my body was shaking, I was breaking down in tears, the unpleasant feelings filled every cell of my body. The owner of the company ignored this abusive behaviour, they did not want to acknowledge it, other people had already left in tears and at this time I didn’t realise there would be many more.
This left me with two choices, I could also run away and leave this job, or I could stay, my tendency throughout my life had been to run away, this was another bully, it seemed like an obvious choice. During my years of formal meditation practice I did learn one thing, when I was restless with the discomfort of intensive practice my teacher said to me, "take one seat", this means to not try to change but to be with and accept whatever you are experiencing, sit still on the cushion without moving.
Could I use this same principal in the workplace, in my daily life? I am also grateful to one of my main meditation teachers, John Hale, John told me to "Embrace all experience as you would a suffering child", he taught me this not only in words but in action as he was quite ill at the time yet not showing any suffering. This inspired me, I decided if I cannot find the right conditions to practice meditation, why not make my life my Mindfulness Meditation practice.
TAKING ONE SEAT
It all became very clear to me at this time, a path started to open and I felt compelled to walk it. I could see clearly that there was no difference between sitting on an intensive meditation retreat and everyday life: isn't there only one thing happening at a time, regardless of whether our eyes are open or closed, whether we are changing a nappy or being abused in a workplace? Suddenly my purpose became very clear, I would not run anymore, the pain in my life would become my teacher, I would study it, come to understand it, I started to understand that seated meditation was the way of training Mindfulness and concentration for every day the practice.
Every day I still woke up sick, woke up with fear of what was to come but my relationship to it had changed.
Why did I feel this way?
What is this feeling of sickness in my stomach?
What is anxiety, what is depression?
Instead of running away I started to investigate, when i woke up feeling sick I turned the strength of the Mindfulness and concentration I developed towards these feelings. Where were they located, how was I experiencing them, why do they feel unpleasant? Why don't I like them?
No longer taking pleasant and unpleasant feeling for granted - Investigate, investigate, investigate, soften, soften, soften, ...take one seat. While I was being abused in the workplace, I looked the person in the eyes, smiled, while internally my attention was on my feelings, on the anger, the fear, the frustration. The abuse became my practice, this person became my teacher.
At first I struggled, I fell many times, my habitual tendencies were to run, to react, when the feeling arose this felt like the easiest path, after all, this is what I had practiced throughout my life. But running away from the pain did not work and what I had been taught by my meditation teachers once again came to mind. During intensive retreat I was taught to sit with physical and mental pain, to not run away from but investigate it. Would it be possible to do this while being treated this way, while being abused?
I decided to follow the path of taking one seat and day by day I could see the path of Mindfulness meditation in daily life opened before me, day by day I started to change. I was still being abused, put down, belittled, but the buttons that used to get a response started to weaken until I could stand quite comfortably in the face of the abuse with very little pain. At this stage I could stop being concerned with my pain and started to observe theirs. This person was in pain, they were screaming in pain, I no longer saw them as bad but as ill, confused, living a false reality inside their head. I began to feel their pain and compassion for their suffering started to arise within me.
I then could stand and take the abuse without experiencing the pain they wanted me to feel, instead I stood and spoke quietly, smiling, internally wishing for their happiness and welfare. Aggression needs either a victim or another aggressor to exist; I was now providing neither, I now observed the effect this had. This person became more abusive, more malicious - for a while, until the pain became too great. I started to notice that this path of love and caring, of balanced mindfulness caused them to feel pain, since I was no longer providing a victim or aggressor to feed their anger it reflected back to them, it was their gift to keep, and gradually the pain became too great and so they started to avoid me. They still treated others badly but avoided treating me in this way, eventually we could work together without the abuse. At this stage I could see a very clear path, I could practice in everyday life, my practice could progress, I started to rejoice in this opportunity to learn more about myself, to continue self study.
I stayed in this workplace for 12 years, helped nearly as many people leave, often in tears, my practice had turned away from my own concerns and I was able to use the protection it provided to help others. The interesting part is that this person didn't change for the better, they were still a not a nice person, but I had changed or should I say my relationship had changed to the external situation and more importantly to my internal situation, allowing me to sit in peace in this turmoil. I learnt so much in this time, I am so grateful for the opportunity, it helped me refine the path of mindfulness in daily life.
LOSS AND PROTECTION
During this time my mother was very ill, I felt that I had nothing more to gain in this workplace, I had made my peace and learnt a valuable lesson, I handed in my resignation to leave in 2 weeks time with no regrets so that I could spend time with my mother during her last days. The morning of my last day at work I was called to my mother, she passed away that morning. Holding her hand through the dying process tested my practice, during this time of grief it continued and deepened, I could clearly see the progression that had been made, this practice could be continued regardless of the external situation. I went to work and finished my last day, unpacking a container, continuously protected from negative people by this beautiful path.
I was now without my beautiful mother and unemployed with no idea of what to do, I continued to practice both my Mindfulness meditation and tai chi and a new path opened up to me. People came to me to learn and I offered myself as a teacher. It was at this time I taught myself html and built my first instructional website - Tai Chi Health for Life. My role as a teacher in both tai chi and meditation grew, my business model based on the understanding I had gained - be generous and kind to others, give all you have and it will return, - take one seat. I had seen this again and again throughout the years, I knew if I treated others well, if I gave all I had to them selflessly it would return, in one form or another. This is the basis my business still exists on today.
A NEW BEGINNING
Six months later I noticed an advertisement in the local paper, for a Buddhist meditation teacher, the first add I didn't respond to but the second one described me in every way other than using my name. It was placed by Venerable Yangchen, she had started Meditation in The Shire 10 years ago and due to illness needed someone to teach the classes and eventually take over. We were a natural fit, I feel very blessed getting the opportunity, it also turned out that she had lost her father a couple days earlier to me losing my mother, our paths were destined to cross as the loss of a parent was a big turning point in both our lives.
Five years later brings us to this point, I continue to practice, teach and share my knowledge of MIDL Mindfulness Meditation in Daily Life. I am truly blessed to be able to make a living from it and I am also very grateful to Venerable Yangchen for all the work she put into building up Meditation in The Shire as well as her trust in me to take over her project. Teaching meditation to me is like coming home again, this is where I am meant to be, everything has once again come full circle.
MIDL is now a worldwide practice, I am blessed and grateful to have many dedicated students throughout the world who have matured within themselves through MIDL and are bringing this maturity into their homes and community. This was always my goal - to help to heal the world from within.
Linda and I are still living together happily and healthily after 31 years in our beautiful home south of Sydney in Australia. We like to spend what time we can together swimming, walking and riding our bikes - exploring new places. Every morning we wake up and look out the window and say "How lucky are we?". Linda has now moved from intensive retreat practice to MIDL and applies it within her work as a career, my dream to one day be able to travel and teach MIDL with her throughout the world.
MY VISION OF SHARING
The desire to share all that I have learnt brought about the creation of my first websites based on giving and sharing: the Tai Chi Health for Life Website and the Meditation in The Shire Website. There are many tai chi and meditation websites available but none giving practical advice and guidance for developing serious practice in everyday life, without access to a teacher. This hiding of knowledge is understandable, teachers often rely on their students to make a living, there must be a balance between what is given for free and what is taught during class otherwise their lively hood is threatened.
I have been advised by many people that I am too generous; that I give away too much information for free and therefore am lowering my value; "People will take advantage of your kindness" is often said to me. While I understand that in the economy of the market this makes sense, everything I do is based on a different understanding. I was taught that "That to be generous and to support others comes back three fold".
This comes not from the economy of the market but an understanding that when someone helps us, we want to help them that this is a natural law that we all abide within, it is a separate economy. The economy of generosity is something that I have experienced over many years, I have been overwhelmed how generosity cannot be taken advantage of, it is always returned in some way. I continue to give all I have, transparently, nothing hidden, knowing that the generosity will return, it always does.
My websites have been designed to provide an opportunity for everyone in the world, regardless of financial background or access to a teacher to have quality instruction in both Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation and Traditional Wu Tai Chi. Generous support has come from others that have the same vision, that appreciate the gift, for this I am eternally grateful and inspired to give more, it has been this support that has allowed me to give as a way of life. My vision is to have the most comprehensive and detailed instructional websites containing reliable and practical information, based on the original practices, so that these ancient paths can still be trodden to the end and the benefits experienced today.
MIDL SYSTEMATIC MINDFULNESS TRAINING
One of my projects for 2016 was to create and complete a systematic way of developing Mindfulness meditation practice in daily life. I wanted to offer a step by step way of developing the three main mental factors of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration in the same way you would do specific exercise to strengthen different parts of your body. Literally a gymnasium of the mind.
At first I was not sure that it could be done but in January 2016 I made my first recording and completed a series of 52 Guided Mindfulness Meditations in December 2016 called the 52 MIDL Mindfulness Trainings. In 2017 the MIDL training system was expanded with the addition of 20 x '15 Minutes of Mindfulness" - an MIDL introduction series and 10 x "Returning to Presence" 7 minute support meditations for throughout the day. It is now January 2018 and I have re-recorded the whole series three times to refine the content and also to upgrade the quality of the recording as I can afford to buy better recording equipment. The quality of the content of the MIDL system is where I want it at this time but the quality of the sound within the recordings is still not at the level I would like it to be.
THE VISION BEHIND MIDL
My goal was to create a systematic training method for practicing and developing the Satipatthana path to full maturity within daily life. This way of practicing would provide a path that could be used by anyone without having to leave our families, work or home life. It would be based on using the observation of our relationship to anything we were experiencing throughout the day to develop wisdom and understanding.
To be able to develop a Mindfulness meditation and to transfer it into daily life requires the systematic development of the mental factors of Investigation, flexible attention and Mindfulness with the support of the ability to Soften Into any resistance we observe throughout the day. Out of the three mental factors I find that Investigation tends to be the weakest in many meditator’s.
I offer guidance to many people throughout the world and find that by encouraging their desire to look within, to understand and experience something, rather than just blindly doing the meditation technique, leads to a deepening of their practice. Throughout my life I have had a natural tendency towards investigation, never taking anything I have heard or experienced for what it appears to be. These led me to question and investigate everything I have experienced during formal practice and everyday life; it is this sense of unflinching investigation that has led me to being able to share with you today.
Thank you for reading and take care