Newcomers’ guide

Some useful information if you are new to Wake Up London:

What is Wake Up London?
A community of young people (around 16 to 35-ish) who practice mindfulness together inspired by the teachings of Zen master, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Wake Up London is a peer-led group, and part of a larger global network.

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.

How do you practice mindfulness?
During the afternoon we will share various mindfulness practices. At the root of all these practices is conscious breathing. Being aware that we are breathing in, being aware that we are breathing out. The breath is always happening in the present moment, always in our bodies, so it can act as an anchor that can bring us back from our thinking about the past or the future. The formal mindfulness practices help the energy of mindfulness to start to inhabit more and more moments of our everyday life.

Why practice mindfulness?
When we cultivate a mindful awareness, it becomes easier to recognize and enjoy all the positive and healthy elements in us and around us. At the same time, it becomes easier to experience our suffering and see ways to transform it.  When we are mindful, our minds become concentrated and that concentration can lead to insights that allow us to live with more freedom.

Is this a religious group? Do I need to be a Buddhist?
Wake Up is inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of Buddhist teachings but there is no need to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness. Though we might use some elements of form or language that have a Buddhist origin, the essence of the practice is universal and can be practised by people of any faith or none. People from a wide range of religious backgrounds have found these practices accessible, beneficial and complementary to their faith or beliefs.

Why do you bow?
Bowing symbolises our minds and bodies coming together and to show respect to others in the room.  Alternatives are fine if that feels problematic.

What is the bell for?
As well as marking the start and end of practices, the bell is a reminder for us to come back to ourselves. Every time we hear it, we can come back to our breathing, and breathe in and out with awareness three times.

Why do I find it so hard to concentrate on my breath? Why can’t I enjoy the practices?
When we sit down to meditate, it can sometimes seem that our mind has got busier but this means we are more aware of what our mind is doing. Our mind may have been conditioned towards busyness for many years and just to stay with our breathing might not be natural at first. The idea is not to ‘try hard’ to make our mind empty or peaceful, but rather let it settle gradually; gently and kindly bringing our attention back to our breath when we notice it has wandered somewhere else. Just in noticing our mind wandering, we are being mindful. At first silently sitting still or walking so slowly can feel uncomfortable but if we give them time, we can learn to enjoy these practices with ease and effortlessness.

How should I sit?
Comfortably! But also in a position that allows you to be alert and upright. Crossed-legged, kneeling and sitting on a chair can all work for meditation. Experiment with what feels comfortable and stable for you. It helps to have three points of contact with the ground which may require more cushions to achieve.

How does an afternoon usually go?
A usual afternoon starts at 2.30pm and finishes at 5pm with a short break halfway through and includes:

    • Introductions
    • Guided meditation
    • Walking meditation
    • Silent sitting
    • Listen to a reading/talk
    • Sharing
    • Reciting the 5 Mindfulness Trainings

What’s the main thing I need to worry about doing if I’m here for the first time?
Nothing! Just relax and enjoy the afternoon. There’s no need to try and ‘do things right’, or achieve anything at all.

Should practising mindfulness be hard work?
Absolutely not! In this tradition, we do not see sitting meditation as some difficult task for a future benefit. Nor do we need to see ourselves as projects that need fixing. We can do sitting meditation just to enjoy sitting meditation. Joy and ease are seen as crucial ingredients in our practice.

Is there anything we can do to make it easier to maintain an awareness of our breathing?
We can use certain phrases as reminders to stay with our breathing. During the guided meditation some sentences will be offered followed by keywords – we can say to ourselves one word with our in-breath and one with our out-breath. Often the guided meditation will start, ‘Breathing in I know I am breathing in, breathing out I know I am breathing out…. In. Out’. We can always come back to ‘In’ and ‘Out’ if the other words don’t feel right at first.

During walking meditation we can align our steps with our breath so we take one step as we breathe in and one step as we breathe out. (We can adjust the length of the steps to ensure we are moving together with everyone else). Again we can use words with each breath and step like arrived with one step, home with the other or here with one step, now with the other.

What do all those funny new words mean?
Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha
Sangha – a community which practises mindfulness together
Thay – an affectionate term for Thich Nhat Hanh, literally ‘teacher’ in Vietnamese
Plum Village – the monastery in France where Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic students are based, also used to describe the tradition he has created in adapting and modernising Buddhism.

Do I have to share?
Sharing is an opportunity for us to speak about our experience of applying the practice of mindfulness in our lives. We practice listening deeply and openly to each other, without interrupting or offering a response. You don’t have to share anything if you don’t wish to.

What is noble silence?
By refraining from talking, it is easier to maintain the energy of mindfulness. We try to keep our afternoons, including the break, silent apart from instructions, introductions and sharing. Of course if there is something that urgent that needs communicating, please do so. It is also nice to start the silent atmosphere when people are arriving. We can use this time to settle and start to become aware of our breathing.

How do you learn if there is no teacher?
Although there is no teacher at Wake Up, we do listen to a reading or talk each week from Thich Nhat Hanh or one his students. Also the practice of sharing allows us to speak mindfully without interruption about how we experience the practice of mindfulness during the afternoons and throughout our lives. As we listen mindfully to each sharing, without offering advice, we may find we can learn a lot from each other’s experiences.

Why do you recite the 5 Mindfulness Trainings?
Thich Nhat Hanh offers mindfulness not as a technique but a way of living. The 5 Mindfulness Trainings offer a guide to bringing mindfulness into all areas of life. While we may not always be able to live each training fully, they offer a skillful direction of travel for our own happiness and for a healthy and compassionate society. It is not essential to practise the trainings in order to come to Wake Up, but the recitation is a key part of our afternoons.

Where do the donations go?
Mainly on the rent of the room as well as other small expenses in running the group. We rely on donations so please do give around £5 if you are able to. Everyone who gives their time to Wake Up London such as facilitating, greeting on the door and event organizing, does so as a volunteer.

How can I find out more about practising mindfulness?
We have a library with books by Thich Nhat Hanh and other writers, if you have been here three times or more you are welcome to borrow books. Please ask one of the facilitators/greeters to find out how. There are usually books for sale which can be bought by filling out the slip inside and putting the money in the silver tin. Some good starting points by Thich Nhat Hanh include: No Mud, No Lotus, You Are Here, The Miracle of Mindfulness, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Peace Is Every Step.

Plum Village has a YouTube channel plumvillageonline and their sister monastery has the Deer Park Dharmacast which allow you to watch/listen to talks on mindfulness online.

Going on a retreat is a great way to explore mindfulness in depth. Wake Up organises our own retreats as well as programmes on larger retreats periodically. See www.wkupuk.org for UK retreats and www.wkup.org for international retreats.

You can also visit Plum Village which hosts retreats for much of the year. See www.plumvillage.org.

As well as Wake Up London there is the Heart of London Sangha which practices in a similar way but is open to all ages. They meet in the same place on Saturdays at 10.30am until 1pm and Thursdays (for people aware of the basic practices) 7pm until 9pm. See www.hols.org.uk.

Do you have a mailing list?
Yes, we send out newsletters containing our news and upcoming events, as well as any other mindfulness related events. You can sign up at our afternoons or via our website here.