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Video: meditation exercises by Christopher McDermott, Lead Chaplain

Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex

A priority at the moment for all of us is to nurture our capacity for staying grounded.

These meditation exercises provide some practical strategies for sustaining a non-anxious presence amid the pervasive anxiety now weighing heavily on so many people.

More than ever we need to be present for one another.

Taking time and space to hone some inner stillness as a counterpoint to the pull of reactive energy is one small way to help us do that.

30 July

In this mindfulness-of-breathing exercise we watch our own breath as usual. But we introduce the dimensions of abdominal breathing to enhance our intake of oxygen. This aids the process of oxygenating the blood, potentially heightening energy, calmness and perhaps clarity of mind. We also extend and slow down the outbreath so that it longer than the in breath, renewing the quality of air in the lungs. Finally, we are invited to count on each outbreath up to ten before starting again as a way of grounding the attention.

Meditation exercise 14 - variation on a mindfulness of breathing exercise: Christopher McDermott, Lead Chaplain

22 June

In this execise we alternate between periods of attentiveness to the movement of our breath and an awareness of our different soundscapes.


11 June

In this meditation we again anchor the awareness in our body and the movement of our breath, but doing so while consciously intending to sustain ourselves in an attitude of kindness and compassion toward ourselves and the world around us.

Meditation exercise 12 - sustaining kindness and compassion: Christopher McDermott, Lead Chaplain

4 June

In this exercise we allow the awareness to gradually settle in our abdomial cavity as we simply watch our body and breath. It is in the regioin of the abdomen where we find the highest concentration of neurons, conected to the vagus complex of nerves largely responsible for running our parasympathetic nervous system. Hence it is sometimes referred to as our 'second brain'. Meditation practice focusing on the region is said to help nurture and support the wellbeing of those functions connected to the vagus nerves. Perhaps. But meditation with a focus in that region may also feel like a solid grounding experience.

Meditation exercise 11 - abdominal awareness and the second brain: Christopher McDermott, Lead Chaplain

27 May

Meditation exercise 10 - mindfulness of breathing: Christopher McDermott, Lead Chaplain

22 May

We return to a simple body scan exercise but also being attentive to the distractions we experience while meditating. Notice what the distraction was - a sound or voice or perhaps a narrative of thought that caught up our attention. Briefly label the distraction (e.g. ‘a voice’ or ‘daydreaming’, ‘thing about a conversation’, or ‘planning what I will do later’ etc.): briefly notice if the distraction carried emotional resonance (e.g., worry, grief, happiness, anticipation, etc..). Finally, notice if you can where the emotional resonance was felt in the body. Then gently and without judgement, escort the attention back to its anchor in the body. View video

6 May

In this meditation, after some grounding in our body and breath, we simply ‘just sit’ without any particular focus of attention. We allow whatever phenomena - sensations in the body and breath, sounds around us, thoughts and emotions - to arise and go without resisting anything nor clinging to anything. In mindfulness meditation practice the exercise is sometimes associated with nurturing creativity. In its original context of Zazen, it is called Shikantaza (just sitting) and has to other name beyond what is on the label: just sitting. 

30 April

In this variation on the mindfulness of breathing meditation we initially use the technique of counting breaths to support us in anchoring our attention. Of course, if counting proves to be distracting for individuals they should feel free simply to anchor awareness in each inbreath and outbreath without counting. Attentively following each inbreathe and outbreath is a way to evoke a sense of calm and roundedness for ourselves. Thich Nhat Han refers to this as ’taking refuge in the breath’.

24 April

This is an invitation to be a bit aimless for a few minutes. Whereas other exercises focus attention on specific phenomena like out body, breath, sound etc. this exercise invites us to just sit, without any specific focus, but to allow whatever presents itself to our awareness to do so without resistance but also without attaching to it. We let thoughts, sensations, noise, feelings arise and then let them go. If other exercises are associated with outcomes like calmness, relaxation, etc. this one is said to open up creative energies for us. 

15 April

We often miss the subtle details in the soundscape around us. In between periods of anchoring the attention in our body and breath we pay purposeful attention to the sounds around us, attending if we can to the raw qualities of the sounds themselves - pitch, timbre, loudness and duration - as opposed to labelling and thinking about the sounds. The exercise aims at deepening and widening our capacity for attentive listening. 

6 April

Isolation can be quite a lonely experience in which we are prone to get overwhelmed with our anxious thoughts and worries. This may be especially true if we are living on our own. Dogen, a 13th century Zen master uses the image of ’sky flowers’ - and ancient metaphor for cataracts and eye problems that cause spots to appear. We really see the spots - but they are not actually there.

In this exercise, after an initial grounding of attention in our body and breath, we are invited to observe thoughts passing through the mind, noticing their emotional charges and possibly where we feel those emotions in our body.

By learning to observe our own thoughts - as ’sky flowers’, events in the mind that are not actually real - we nurture a capacity to be with what may at times be uncomfortable thoughts, whether inducing anger, anxiety, worry or fear - in a way that helps us to be responsive rather than reactive in our behaviour in relation to them.

31 March

24 March 2020

18 March 2020

Other ways to seek help during this period

Employee Assistance Programme

As a member of staff you have access to our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) partners Care First. Care First are a specialist highly professional organisation that can provide a range of help at difficult times. There is a 24 hour / 365 days-a-year telephone help line that can provide counselling and specialist advice on a range of matters.

You can call the EAP helpline on 0800 015 5630.

The service is confidential and you can refer yourself. There is no need to inform your line manager and Care First will keep all their contact with you completely confidential. Whether is it a family matter, moving house, moving job, a major life event, neighbourhood concerns, consumer rights, or even a brush with the law, they can provide advice and help - and signpost you to more specialist services if they think that you need to access them.

All the staff at Care First are qualified and experienced in their field. 

Register with Care First now (username: lifestyle1234 / password: carefirst)

Mental wellbeing smartphone application

As a member of staff at the University of Sussex you also have free access to: 

'Thrive' is an evidence based smart phone app providing in-depth tools and support for anyone to improve their mental wellbeing.

How to access the Thrive App:

Step 1. Find the log on page:

Step 2. Enter your e-mail address, and verify it. Then enter a password of your choice.

Step 3. Enter the University of Sussex Company access code: AVIVAIYP1116

Occupational Health

Our on site Occupational Health team are still here and continue to offer advice on health, safety and wellbeing at work. Referral to occupational health is via your Line Manager or HR. Read more about Occupational Health at Sussex.

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By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Thursday, 30 July 2020

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