Mindfulness standing meditation: How to stand up

Standing up is second nature, if you’re a tree. But as Philip Cowell reflects, mindful standing is a tall order

Tress and a gravel courtyard with a gate and a hedge, Tuscany. Italy

Tress and a gravel courtyard with a gate and a hedge. For a mindfulness standing meditation, nothing beats a tree as a teacher. Laura Eades 2014

Can we stop and stare at our own standing up? 

It’s a moment that stands out, or you might say stands up, in John Berryman’s great The Ball Poem:

how to stand up
        knowing what every man must one day know       
        and most know many days, how to stand up

I love the idea that knowing how to stand up might be something we want to know how to do one day, or indeed that we do know many days. The assumption is, of course, that we don’t yet know how to do it at all. And in a way, we don’t know, yet, how to stand up.

Or perhaps the poet isn’t so much suggesting we don’t know how to stand up, it’s just a question of which way to stand up. ‘How to stand up’ as in ‘how shall I stand up today?’, as if there are hundreds of ways to stand up. Which there are, of course.

Can we stand up inside our standing? 

Whether it’s about the impossibility of standing up, or the multiplicity of standing up, it’s taking a stand on how to take a stand. Next time you’re in a queue or waiting for a train: really take a stand, really notice how you’re standing, how your shoulders and hands drip off you like paint, how your organs feel inside you, how your skin feels taut or loose, how you smile in your standing.

Here’s some things I think about standing up:

  1. 1. We probably do know how to stand up.
  2. 2. There are probably some things we can learn from other people’s way of standing and indeed our own.
  3. 3. We can probably relearn, or adapt, or adjust, how we stand up accordingly.

Can we be creative with our standing?

Is there something called creative standing?

Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Standing meditation is best learned from trees.” The tree is an expert stander upper. “Feel your feet developing roots into the ground. Feel your body sway gently, as it always will, just as trees do in a breeze.” We now know that the body is constantly moving, even in a still standing position. Find your postural sway and embrace it, it’s part of your charm!

Moshe Feldenkrais says, if we get rid of the way in which we’re standing – we might be “standing manly, femininely, authoritatively, nicely, efficiently, arrogantly, proudly, or meekly” – then “there remains standing as dictated by the structure of the body and its nervous mechanisms. A stance that is rare, but of which we are all capable.” A stance that is rare, but of which we are all capable. I like that.

Can we stand up without standing up?

I like the idea that standing up can be a rare thing, both possible and out of reach. That we could, as it were, build up to standing up. One way to do that is to imagine yourself standing up from a seated position. Then to stand up physically. What’s the difference?

Can we sit down in our standing?

Here’s some homework 

1. Try this, don’t go to the gym one time this week. Instead stay at home and practise standing up – both the act of getting up on to your feet, and the act of standing still itself once you’re there. Do it again and again. Stand for 20 minutes, longer if you can. Hold your palms up towards the light.

2. Practise standing up with trees, either the real ones you can see, or the imaginary ones you invoke in your standing meditations. Do this outside or inside. Stop, stand, see your tree and wait. Breathe up and down the trunk. Feel the breeze on the bare bits, where your skin, like bark, is exposed. Stand as long as you can, with your eyes shut or open. The moment you feel like moving on, try and stay a little longer. Open your palms to the sky.

3. Practise standing rarely. Stand such that if someone was painting you they wouldn’t have a word to describe how you’re standing. Find the way you rarely stand. Discover how much room there is in your standing. Do you find yourself standing inside the way you stand? Can you turn your standing into a stance? What do you need to do in order to make this shift?

Tell everyone about it.

Taking a stand is revolutionary.

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Philip Cowell is a writer, dancer, skipper round town, and clown, training to be a mindfulness teacher. www.philipcowell.co.uk

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Can you stand it, standing up in a queue? Can you remould your posture? Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign on it (below the blogpost) to open up the comment thread and add your thoughts

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