Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is Mindfulness?

Beautiful clip describing this practice. It is truly a gift to connect with and practice Mindfulness. Life becomes more than just a moving from one activity to the next and the next. We pause to actually be with what we're experiencing moment to moment. Instead of living in the world of thoughts, we live in a vibrant, alive, aware world; the world of living, loving and dying. We stop avoiding certain experiences and feelings and instead learn to open to life; connecting with wisdom (clear seeing) and compassion.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Life is a Gift

Life is precious. From the first breath we take to the last is truly a gift.  

And so how can maintain this awareness of the preciousness of every moment, every breath, every contact we have with life? Can we do it with reverence, with forgiveness for the times we're caught up in reactivity, fighting and resisting the way life is? 

It's possible to meet the pain with acceptance, understanding and compassion

It sometimes feels impossible to open to pain. It can be a deep wrenching grief that tosses us like a little dingy in a vast ocean. Sometimes the grief, sorrow and sadness can send us rushing to the bottom of the ocean and it feels as if we will stay there forever. At some point, I believe the heart begins to mend and we once again rise to the surface. We rejoin life and it little by little color seeps into our view of the world. 

Wisdom comes when we see things beyond the way they should or shouldn't be and respond with compassion

I guess the most important thing to remember is that wisdom can come from suffering. I don't say this lightly and I'm not minimizing how devastating loss can feel. I believe that how we get through the challenges in life really matters. We can either look at what happens through the lens of victim-hood or through the lens of clarity and wisdom. This is the way life is. And even that feeling of victim-hood is a part of the healing process. It's the resisting and clinging that comes right before we let go. We relax our grip on trying to control things that are beyond our control. Therein, paradoxically is the power to choose how we meet these challenges.

I love this poem by Rumi that speaks to this.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
A teaching story translated by Coleman Barks 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What you are seeking is right here...

Have you ever been on a quest to find the perfect person, place, feeling or thing?  What happens when you find it? Does it satisfy you? 

So it could be that we're looking for someone who will love us just the way we are and we want that person to be with us forever. We want to feel a sense of security and safety whether it's in relationship, at work or in the world. As humans we seek connection and security. We want to feel loved so we seek a partner who, when we're with them we experience a feeling of being treasured. Or we want to feel financially secure so we work long hours, and save every thing we can. But sometimes we go to the extreme. So we save our money but our social life is non-existant and when we are with our beloved we're irritable and exhausted. Caught up in the illusion of if only I had _____all will be well, we seek happiness and peace in the external world and end up like a cat chasing it's tail; occasionally they catch the tail but then it slips out of their grasp. So the wanting/seeking can be so intense to the point of being painful. This is what the Buddha called desire and with desire comes suffering/stress/dissatisfaction. 

Soon after "we" get what we want, we get bored, frustrated, criticize it or want more of it. It's like an insatiable monster that is never satisfied. The monster is the mind and what keeps us seeking are the way we relate to our thoughts. We often relate to thoughts as if they are true. Sometimes our thoughts follow a story line and pretty soon we've written a whole novel about something that hasn't happened, isn't happening and may never happen. Sometimes the story can be pleasant, unpleasant and sometimes it's just downright boring but in the end it's just a story. The reality is that life is passing and instead of connecting with the vibrancy and aliveness that surrounds us we are living in our heads. Our hearts are closed off and our aliveness is dulled. It's as Tara Brach,  meditation teacher and Psychotherapist says, it's like we're caught in a trance...we cut off from our bodies and we leave "this space of awareness that is the source and essence of all aliveness."  

Mindfulness Meditation helps us reconnect to life as it's happening....

Meditation helps us come into direct contact with what is happening within us, as it's happening.  As we come into stillness we watch the movement of the mind; we witness thoughts arising and passing awayAs we breathe and feel the breath come into the body we come into direct contact with this aliveness. The practice of meditation allows us to train the mind so that when it wanders off into thoughts we notice and that moment of noticing is a moment of mindfulness. It's a moment of connecting with the present, of opening to emotions, sensations and thoughts as they are happening. In Vipassana (Insight Meditation) practice we begin to investigate using the acronym of RAIN as follows:

Applying the acronym of R.A.I.N. is a great way to begin practicing mindfulness. Just the shift towards opening to this practice helps us to recognize that being present for our moment to moment experience, to be connected to our body, mind and heart, to see things as they really are and to respond in a way  that is healing and healthy is essential to our overall well-being. We begin to notice the the life around us, we open our hearts to each other. Not in some new age or "kumba ya" manner, but in an authentic, compassionate and kind manner. Why? Because we realize that we are all walking in the same direction. Everyone of us, no matter what we look like on the outside, or how much money we have/don't have, are made of the same matter. We have a body, mind and heart; are vulnerable to illness, old age, death and change and in the end the only thing we have control over is how we respond to life. As beautifully stated by Thich Nhat Hanh in the drawing below.

In the tug and pull of desire’s grip
I unravel
Tattered shreds of a once regal robe fall away
Nothing comes….nothing
I ride out the battle
with time and breath
time and breath
time and breath
Acceptance breezes in (crafty sage that she is)
Wraps this heart in sumptuous golden silk
Warms this heart to a trusting stillness, then
Leaves a knowing kiss upon this slowly smoothing brow.

Donna Sherman, “Acceptance”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Gift of Meditation: Connecting with this Vibrant Life

Meditation is like medicine for the heart. It can be profoundly healing during times of stress, difficulty or when we're feeling overwhelmed. Instead of living in a world of virtual thoughts and reactions, we come back home to the vibrant life that is right here in our body, mind and heart. How do we do this? By consciously connecting with the breath and sensations in the body.

Awareness of breath is the first step towards reconnecting with life and wellbeing...

"Breathing is the bridge between mind and body, the connection between consciousness and unconsciousness, the movement of spirit in matter. Breath is the key to health and wellness, a function we can learn to regulate and develop in order to improve our physical, mental and spiritual well-being." Dr. Andrew Weil
Connecting to the breath, can be a first step towards developing awareness, about how we're relating to what to life. This conscious awareness is what helps us to notice when we're caught up in thoughts or beliefs. It helps us see, that what's happening in our lives isn't what causes suffering; it's the way we're relating to it. We can pause and shift out of reaction/thoughts/beliefs and notice how:
  • the body is reacting to pain (tightening, heart racing, defenses arising)
  • whats happening in the mind (reactive/defensive thoughts closes and contracts our ability to be open minded and our minds can feel closed and contracted i.e. narrow minded)
  • what happens in the heart (we armor our hearts to try to protect ourselves from getting hurt only to experience deeper hurt).
This pausing, to step outside the world of thoughts and into our felt experience is actually freeing. We begin to see how our reaction to life is fueled by the way we think life should/shouldn't be. We notice how our whole being is caught up in resistance and how this intensifies the pain we encounter. With this insight we can begin to shift from reaction to response. We can begin to attune and respond with compassion to what is actually happening in the present moment. Breathing in, I meet tension with a compassionate breath, breathing out I soften the tension... Just tuning into the breath can begin to soften the contraction we experience when pain arises in body, mind and heart.

Meditation as a path to waking up....

Meditation helps us reconnect with the vibrant life that is right here. Instead of being caught up in stories, worries or concerns about past or future we come into contact with what is actually happening moment to moment. There is a stream of life that flows through us and when we pause to notice we reconnect with spacious, open awareness.

Gift yourself today by pausing to practice. It may seem like you don't have time...the question is do you have time to live? Do you have time to breathe? The answer is of course yes! Your body breathes and you need the breath to live...so take time to pause and connect with the life that's right here.

There is much more I can say about this practice. For today it's enough to know that this practice has  transformed the way I relate to others, myself and life and that is a gift!

Listen to this beautiful meditation by Jack Kornfield, a wise and wonderful teacher of mindfulness.

May you be peaceful and well

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How Self Compassion Helps us

During stressful and challenging times how do you talk to yourself? How does your body react to stress? What is your interaction like with others? Is it easier to be compassionate towards others, children, pets, a stranger than it is to feel this towards yourself?

If you notice that your self talk is loaded with criticism and judgment when life gets challenging, you're not alone. When we make mistakes or life doesn't go according to plan we tend to become judgmental, harsh, critical towards ourselves when we make a mistake. Behind this painful reaction, is a desire to stop ourselves from making future mistakes! However, mistakes are a part of being human. So, if we are prone to make mistakes does it make sense to beat ourselves up for making them? Not! So why do we do it? And how we can learn to shift from self criticism and judgment to self compassion? 

Turning towards the pain and softening defenses

Self compassion is a way of accepting ourselves and also accepting that in moments of frustration, or emotional turmoil there is pain. In that moment of acknowledging the pain, we can tap into wisdom and choose what is is the most healing way to meet this.  It is a moment where we can reconnecting with what helps us flow through the pain and also to see what needs to happen, or how to proceed so that we can take action based on what helps rather than what keeps us locked in the need to be right. And there is so much more to how this practice helps and why it's essential to our emotional well being and our need to stay open hearted and open minded.

I'd like to share with you a beautiful video by Kristin Neff, a top researcher on this subject and author of Self Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Please give yourself this gift of learning how to be kind and compassionate with yourself. It is truly a gift to you and to everyone and every living being you come into contact with.