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Paying Attention

Ed Halliwell
Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Learning outcomes

  • The difficulties that tend to arise in the practice of guided and unguided meditation
  • The importance of guidance when training the skill of attention
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Executive Bio

Ed Halliwell

Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Ed is a UK-based mindfulness teacher. He has written three books: Into The Heart of Mindfulness, Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention (published in a new edition as Mindfulness Made Easy) and (as co-author) The Mindful Manifesto. He is an associate of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and Sussex Mindfulness Centre, and regularly speaks on mindfulness-related topics, in the media and at conferences, festivals and other events. He leads public mindfulness courses, workshops and retreats in London, Surrey and Sussex, and has introduced and taught mindfulness in workplaces such as Accenture, UNICEF UK, Imperial College Business School, and the Houses of Parliament. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Precisely on that point, how does one go about that? How would one go about cultivating this approach?

This is a challenging skill. I very often hear, and I feel sad hearing it, is that people will say to me, I’m no good at mediation. I tried it and I can’t. Actually, what that often means is, I had a difficult experience. Perhaps they were trying to make their mind blank or trying to get to a place of calm and relaxation and it didn’t happen. Then that’s it; mindfulness is on the scrapheap. That’s rather sad, because it’s a bit like saying, I’m going to give up playing the piano after one lesson, because I haven’t managed Rachmaninov.

As with any trainable skill that’s rather difficult, it helps to have some guidance. I wouldn’t recommend that this is something we do without some form of assistance. That could come in a number of forms. There are many mindfulness apps and some of those are really helpful where you can hear a guided meditation; five to 10 minutes a day, to start to give yourself a little bit of space in each day, where you are guided through a mindfulness practice. That can be a really good way in. Even more skillfully, might be to find yourself a live teacher. If you imagine an app teaching you to play the piano, it might help a little bit and give you a good way in, but probably not the same as having a live teacher. You might want to seek out a mindfulness course and the gold standard mindfulness courses are the ones that usually last for eight weeks, two-hour sessions. Courses such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are the two best known and best evidenced of those courses. You’re really encouraged to give yourself, fairly intensively, to mindfulness practice for a couple of months. As well as the weekly sessions, you’re asked to practice in between those sessions, on a daily basis, usually for about half an hour a day. That may seem like a lot but, as a say, it’s going a little deeper into the practice. But like most skills, if you spend more time and give more energy to them, you’ll probably get more deeper rewards, as well.

Those would be my two suggestions. First of all, some kind of guided meditation that you can find online, as a toe in, but taking care not to judge the experience too early. Then, if you really want to give yourself the chance to develop this skill – without wanting to sell it too hard, we’re talking about the skill of understanding our own experience. This mind and body that we take to every moment of our life, and the way in which it operates affects all of our relationships, all of our interactions and, therefore, I would suggest, is a skill that, if we want to take into working lives, our personal lives, maybe it’s worth some investment, because we take it everywhere.

Maybe it might seem like a lot, investing 25 hours in course, plus half an hour a day, over two months. I’m not going to say it might be the best investment you make, because I’m bound to say that, aren’t I? I’m a mindfulness teacher. But maybe it’s worth giving it a go and seeing whether what I’m suggesting is true for you or not.

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