Dhukka: sticky notes from a silent retreat (1/3)


Dhukka: sticky notes from a silent retreat (1/3)

A silence retreat is a unique experience. It is different every time. Since it’s a rather individual journey hard to translate into words or learnings for others, I will share three universal concepts that struck me that could be valuable for you too. Today, I’ll share with you sticky note n° 1 on ‘dhukka’.

The concept of ‘dhukka’ originates from Buddhist texts, also called sutras. Dhukka means suffering, pain or dissatisfaction. Although this translation hardly covers the total concept, as it in fact includes much more than that. Dhukka is part of our lives. We discern three types of dhukka.

  1. Dhukka-dhukka: physical and mental suffering (e.g. birth, illness, stress, …)
  2. Viparinama-dukkha: change, nothing is permanent, everything changes all the time (e.g. the seasons, the world, even people – you are not the person you were 10 years ago. This type of dhukka also includes unquenchable frustration of not getting what we crave for.)
  3. Sankhara-dukkha: self-inflicted pain and suffering (e.g. my own blame, judgment, feelings of shame or guilt).

The first two types of dhukka are inevitable. If you cut your finger, there is no way to undo this. The dhukka of change is also inevitable. You can’t stop the seasons from evolving or prevent people from growing old. The last type of dhukka, however, is not inevitable. And here lies hope. It means that we can ease, or leave out, the pain we inflict on ourselves. Interested?

So, next time I leave for work without my phone, mindfulness can help me to become aware of my body sensations and thought patterns that automatically trail along: e.g. “why did I have to leave in such a hurry? I had ample time, but no. I still needed to empty the dishwasher first. My time management sucks, I suck. Clearly, I’m not worthy of that phone if I let it linger everywhere. Just as well I feel bad about it now. That will teach me.”

Do your recognise this? Thought so. We all do this to ourselves: throwing the self-inflicted pain (the insult) on top of the actual pain (forgetting the phone in the first place). It remined me of the story of the two arrows. The first arrow hitting bull’s eye symbolizes the physical or mental pain. This is inevitable. But the second arrow, you don’t need to shoot. This arrow represents your self-inflicted pain. We all know we can’t change the facts. But we can change our relationship with them. It starts with accepting what is there.

So, from the moment we become aware of this pattern, we can pause. We stop, breathe and choose a different reaction. A reaction that softens or even leaves out the extra pain, easing our suffering and accompanying bad moods. We short circuit the negative stream of thoughts, emotions by noticing what is present in the body. In brief, we don’t have to be crushed or overwhelmed by dhukka. It doesn’t have to be like that. We can still flourish in a world full of dhukka, accepting it, rather than running away from it, or making it bigger.

What we experience next, is freedom. Freedom from the burdens and stress we so often cause ourselves. Not total freedom to do be free from pain in a dhukka-free world. But a sense of liberation from the destructive habits we have that don’t help us any further.

So, next time you encounter this pattern of sankhara-dhukka in life, ask yourself: “How do I want my pain? With or without additives?”


Want to try an 8 week course in mindfulness first? Next course starts on Tue 5 September till Tue 24 October 2017. More info on our homepage or Facebook (in Dutch).


“Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure.”

Strategically stopping and building in recovery periods during our day time is highly effective in building resilience. Apparently, our brains need as much sleep as our bodies do.

When coaching executives and managers I often draw the comparison with top sport. In order to achieve extraordinary results, we need to alternate practice with regular periods of substantial relaxation. No one wants heavy legs when you need to pull out your best sprint of the year, now do you?

In business and daily life this simple rule in self-management and prevention of burn-out is ever so easily overlooked. So, take at least three 5-minute breaks per day to stop the threadmill in your mulling brain. During one of those time-outs, think of 3 things you will undertake this week to recharge, rather than endure. My top three for this week:

  1. take 3 mindful 3-minute-breaks per day with focus on breathing
  2. go to sleep when I feel tired instead of staying glued to Netflix
  3. collect my daughter from school on foot instead of using the car

I know, it’s not rocket science. But it still is very powerful and easy to do.

So, how will you stop to recharge yourself this week? More tips in the full Harvard Business Review article.




Why does gratitude have to do with mindfulness?

Gratitude, what a graceful word. It derives from Latin ‘gratus’ (cf ‘grace’), which means ‘thankful, pleasing’. In the mid 15th century, gratitude meant ‘good will’. Later, in the 16th century the meaning ‘thankfulness’ became more apparent.

Giving thanks, or saying grace, is saying your prayers. For ages, religious families thanked God before eating. They paused and reflected on what they were thankful for: crops, cattle, a roof over the head, clothes, offspring, good health, … Much like mindfulness pauses and stops to become aware of what is, really. In more recent times, the religious custom to give thanks is growing out of fashion.

However, on Thanksgiving Day, the Americans still celebrate the old ritual of saying thanks for the harvest reaped. The tradition goes that each person at the table tells one specific reason they’re thankful to God that year. The family rejoices by having stuffed turkey served with mashed potatoes, season vegetables, gravy and pumpkin pie.

Why practice gratitude?

There are multiple benefits to practicing gratitude. And they are all worth the while. Foremost, it opens the door to a happier life. If you count your blessings it helps you to set a positive mindset. When you go through rough times your mind will be tempted to linger with negative thoughts and emotions. If you train to see the positive, it helps you stop these automatically triggered negative judgements. This is because gratitude opens up the ‘approach pathways’ in our mind, rather than the ‘aversion pathways’. When we are in the approach mode we see the opportunities rather than the threats, and we become more creative, we have a more open mind, …

But it’s not just a changed mindset that makes us happier. There is also the neurological effect of dopamine, the ‘reward’ drug in our body. It tells you to repeat things because they feel good. Our brain is continuously looking for confirmation: it searches for things to be proved which the mind already believes are true. Dopamine reinforces this. So, from the moment you start looking for things you are thankful for, your brain wants more of the same.

Other scientifically proven benefits of being grateful are:

  • having more fulfilling relationships,
  • leading a healthier life, physically and psychologically,
  • having more empathy and being less aggressive,
  • sleeping better at night and
  • having more self-esteem and increased mental strength.

Gratitude in mindfulness

Like any other skill, gratitude takes practice. That’s why we teach the 10-finger gratitude exercise in mindfulness training. Before you go to sleep, for each finger you name one thing that you are thankful for that day. Kids love this. Watch how easily they come up with 10 items.

Apart from that you can also deepen your practice by doing a meditation on gratitude. The Brussels Mindfulness Institute recorded one especially for you. You can start it simply by clicking on this link.

So, there you go. Now you have everything in place to practice gratitude. What 10 items will you be thankful for today? I’ll start by sharing that I’m thankful for you reading this article till the end.

Sincere thanks,



5 tips to be mindful during the holidays

From the looks of it, holidays provide the perfect opportunity to park the ‘Doing mode’ and practice the ‘Being mode’ all the time. However, in practice, this is easier said than done. Here are 5 tips to help you maintain (or start) a daily mindfulness practice, even on holiday, even with friends or family around and even when you feel like ‘doing’ a lot of cultural sight-seeing trips, sports, culinary visits, and to mindfully enjoy the things you are doing.

Tip 1 – Start the day with a 3-minute Breathing Space

The 3 minute breathing space is an excellent way to gauge your personal weather forecast in three stages. You can do it in the kitchen with a coffee before everyone else gets up, or – if you are not a morning person – on the side of your bed when you wake up. You can keep your eyes closed if that feels okay. As long as you can promise yourself you won’t fall back to sleep.

Stage 1: how am I today? Briefly scan through the entire body: what thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations pop up? Do not engage in them just yet, simply get a glimpse of what is present, here and now.

Stage 2: shift your focus to your breathing. Feel the breath in the abdomen going in and out. Don’t change your breath. Just feel it. Every in-breath a new beginning, every out-breath a letting go.

Stage 3: expand your focus to the entire body. See if you can hold the entire body in awareness. Not just where your feet make contact with the ground, where your sit bones touch the bed, but also the air on your skin, your facial expression and the inside of your body. If a particular part of you is craving for attention, decide whether to breathe with it for a moment, giving it space, or to leave it and mindfully return to your breathing.

Tip 2 – Take some time to do nothing

Some of us are having difficulties to switch gears with ‘Doing mode’ and ‘Being mode’ when taking time off from work and going on a holiday. The doing mode is the mode we are mostly on. It keeps us busy, helps us achieving things, but it also sometimes prevents us from winding down and relaxing. It usually takes a couple of days to wind down completely and get rid of all the urges that are still present in our body and mind.
Some people do not switch off ‘Doing mode’ and make a lot of plans even on holidays. The experiment is to try at least one day or a few hours a day not to plan anything at all. See how it feels to just stop, breathe and observe yourself for a while. What do you notice? Which thoughts come up? What feelings are there? Any bodily sensations that ask for your attention? Are you prone to any action impulses? And when observing the surroundings: which sounds do you hear? What colours do you drink in? What is the air like? See if you can discover new things, things that didn’t occur to you earlier or things you have not been doing for a long time like watching the clouds pass by. You can enjoy them by engaging all senses. And if the mind wanders, observe where it has taken you. Then come back to the moment with kindness; there’s no need to judge yourself for having wandered off.

Tip 3 – Turn your walks into a walking meditation

During holidays, you might find it more difficult to find the time to meditate as there is generally less structure in your day. If you are an early bird, it will be easy for you to find a quiet place to do your practice. Gardens are wonderful settings for morning practices. You could try a walking meditation and look at the flowers and gardens beds. Are they still wet with dew? How does the grass feel under your bare feet? Smell the fresh air too. Perhaps you are located near the sea side or in the mountains. These are great settings for morning meditation walks where you can enjoy the freshness of the nature and the silence.

You can turn any walk into a walking meditation. Simply go for a walk around your hotel, on the beach or wherever you are located and feel the contact of your feet with the ground, smell the freshness of the air, feel the sun or wind in your face and listen to the sounds. After a few minutes of walking like this you will already feel refreshed.

Tip 4 – Tell your relatives or friends you are going to meditate

If you wish to explicitly take a moment during the day for your meditation practice it can be helpful to tell your family or friends that you would like to meditate. This is not about asking permission for your practice. It’s just that not everyone is familiar with the habit of meditation. You might feel a little awkward telling others about it, or you might feel guilty claiming a couple of minutes for yourself.

In coaching we advise to make ‘the implicit explicit’. So the best way to go about it is to be open and transparent. There is no need to justify yourself though, simply share why it is important to you and what you need from others in order to do it (be alone in a room for a moment, have some silence, …). In this way there is a mutual understanding and expectations are crystal clear. Alternatively, when the others play a game of petanque or dive in the pool, you can take some minutes to do your meditation and join them afterwards. If you have bigger children, you could even invite them to meditate with you. As the old proverb goes … what’s learnt in the cradle, lasts till the tomb….

Tip 5 – Drop into your senses with everything you do

Holidays are the best moment to practice informal mindfulness. With this we mean to try to bring as much as possible your mind and body together – to consciously do the things you are doing. Holidays are a perfect moment to practice because there are so many joyful opportunities and the daily rushing has been left behind. So even if you do not find the time to formally meditate you can turn all the things you are doing into some kind of meditation.

You can slowly and mindfully walk at the beach and feel the sand and water on your feet, you can enjoy beautiful sunsets (without taking pictures to post them on Facebook), you can savour nice dinners, a swim in the pool or the ocean, a bike ride, hiking- whatever you are doing can be a moment of true presence. And when you realise that you are caught in thoughts or mental busyness, you can gently call your mind back to what you are doing. By dropping into your senses you will have a rich experience and your mind will be able to quiet down and to relax.
This is the true art of mindful living – to be able to enjoy all the little things which are on your path and to be present right here and right now as much as you can.

You will return home well-rested and more stress-resilient.

Have a fabulous time!

Nele Costers  (Golden Blue) & Beate Trück (Brussels Mindfulness Institute)