Lice, Tie-Dye, and Some Soul Cleansing

Lice, Tie-Dye, and Some Soul Cleansing

It wasn’t until I spent my 21st birthday on a meditation retreat that I found anything remotely as soul cleansing and wonderful as hippy camp. Instead of singing camp songs, it was days of silence and contemplation. And instead of making tie-dye, new little joys came in mindfully doing laundry or washing dishes.

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Obstacles On The Path

Obstacles On The Path

With mindfulness we can become aware of the obstacles we face without getting unwittingly mired in their traps. Instead of trying to barrel through them or obliterate them, we learn how to work with them and how to meet them with the same relaxed, kind, interest that we meet anything else in our practice.

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Stop Thinking That You Have to Stop Thinking

When I first came to meditation I had it in my mind that I was supposed to sit down, close my eyes, and stop my thoughts. With somewhere around 60,000 thoughts a day, that would have been no small task! The longer I sat in meditation, the more frustrated I became at my inability to turn off my thoughts. I have a feeling I'm not the only person who has had this frustration and misunderstanding about the "goal" of this meditation practice.

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Holiday News Wrap-Up!

Mindfulness has been all over the news lately. The last month has been a blur of joyful holiday gatherings with family, and it felt like at each get together someone else would mention a different article or TV program they’d just seen touting the benefits of mindfulness. In case, like me, you’ve also spent the last few weeks away from your computer I wanted to give you some of the mindfulness highlights.

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Plant the Seed!

Plant the Seed!

"Just for a little while, come outside with me. Feel your insignificance, and get to learn a different way to be in the world."

Because when we go out, we talk about, if we're going to observe wildlife how do we have to be? You have to be completely different than you are normally as a 10 year-old—flailing about, loud, whatever. Well, you can do that, but you're not going to see much! Nature has a different pace and a different volume. So the more I do this work, the more I understand that part of the value for these young people, and for me, in doing this work (and I hope for the larger community as it grows) are these sort of different perspectives and this opportunity to be a different way in the world.

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Giving Thanks!

Giving Thanks!

Gratitude is a fantastic and scientifically proven way to re-route those negative neurons in our brains and actually bring about happier feelings and less negativity. Not only does mindfulness help us to notice when our mind is tight with negativity, it also helps us to notice so much of the richness of life.

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TV-mind

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about thinking. And it’s been easy to get carried away with it. I’ll start thinking about thoughts and what role they have in mindfulness practice and the next thing I know I’m thinking about planning a talk, then I’m drafting a blog, then I’m imagining how many likes it will get on Facebook, and then I start questioning my social media strategy. Strategy? That sounds like I’m going to war. Hmm. That video I just watched of John Lennon and Yoko Ono was touching, the two of them were all about peace. Peace is good. If only all of these thoughts would stop so I’d have some peace…

I think you get the picture.

When many people first hear of mindfulness I think they might get the idea that it’s all about clearing the mind of thoughts to get some peace, or that we’re supposed to be thinking only about the present moment.

With some types of thinking this view of mindfulness is accurate. The mind likes to keep busy, drumming up memories and hopes, imagining scenarios and playing them out over and over. A surprising amount of our thinking is like white noise, a dull hum in the background that can be both comforting and annoying. Left unattended to, this white noise starts to crank up the volume. It reminds me of having a few TVs on in the background, each with different home-shopping or infomercials playing. Sure, we could grab the remote and switch them off, but that necklace looks interesting, and can you believe how much that towel can absorb?! It’s easy to get sucked into these TV programs even if we’re not really interested in the products they offer. With this type of thinking our mindfulness practice helps us to identify the thoughts and then let them go. Once we notice that the TV is on, we can grab the remote and turn it off. The mind wandering that happened when I started thinking about thinking is a good example of this TV white noise.

But mindfulness is not solely about turning off our thinking. In fact, if we spent all of our time turning thoughts off I think we’d miss out on the transformational magic that mindfulness can have on our experience. Mindfulness is about meeting our experience and experiencing it fully, without adding the story of why or why not the experience is ok.

It is about transforming the relationship we have with thinking, moving it from one of clinging and aversion to one of wonder, inquisitiveness and discovery.

Our challenge then is to meet our thoughts and get to know them, especially the thoughts that seem to be emotionally charged or filled with self-judgment. Why do some keep calling over and over? What story am I perpetuating about myself with these thoughts? How does my body feel when I think that thought?

As we continue practicing mindfulness, we begin to see different patterns in our thinking. We can more easily detect when the TV is blaring white noise as opposed to when it is playing a breakthrough documentary about our inner workings. As our discernment develops we are less easily carried away by cascading thoughts. And not only that, but we don’t get so easily tricked into believing that everything we think is the truth. What we see on the TV of our mind is just like what we see on TV--images in a box. They're just energetic patterns flitting around our brains, light projected on a screen. Sometimes they can be informative and useful, but a lot of the time they're just white noise.

Mindfulness practice helps us choose what channel to watch, or if we want to watch TV at all. And when we choose to watch the TV of our minds, mindfulness practice helps us to remember the adage: don't believe everything you see on TV.

6 Tips to Help Jumpstart Your Meditation Practice

I first came to meditation out of desperation. As a sophomore in college, I had been struggling with a challenging course and was filled with anxiety and having minor freak-outs ahead of each class session. I remember feeling like I had to do something to take care of myself or I wouldn’t make it through the semester.

So every Wednesday morning before that class, once my roommate had left our dorm, I would sit my college-issued desk chair in the middle of our common space, close my eyes, and take a few minutes to breathe.

The result: I was calmer and less nervous about the class. I think I may have even gotten an A. When the semester ended, I wasn’t so committed to meditating each day, and my pittance of a practice fell by the wayside.

It wasn’t until the following summer when I attended a couple of residential meditation retreats that I decided I wanted to make meditation a more consistent part of my daily routine. In the decade since then I’ve gone through spells of time when I’ve been less than consistent in my daily practice. But on the whole, since I first made that commitment during my retreat, I’ve kept at it. Along the way, a few suggestions have bolstered my practice and kept me coming back (to the breath).

If you’re considering starting a meditation practice here are a few things that will support you.

1.     Make a commitment, set your intention, and make it do-able. First thing’s first, you have to decide you want to do this, and it will help if you’re reasonable in your expectations. Don’t start your meditation practice by forcing yourself to sit for at least three hours a day, each day. Chances are, you’ll get sick of it and will quit before you even see the magic that meditation can work on your life. Set yourself up with a goal you’ll be able to keep. It could be as small as five minutes for five days a week a day at first.

2.     Create a space where you can practice. These days I have my own altar and meditation area; but when I started out, it was the middle of the dorm room, the top bunk, and eventually a corner in my bedroom. Find somewhere conducive to taking a few minutes alone that you can reserve for just this practice (so not near a TV or where people gather in the house to chat).

Photo By: Gregory Crespo You don't need an altar like this! A dedicated space in your room would work. :-)

Photo By: Gregory Crespo

You don't need an altar like this! A dedicated space in your room would work. :-)

3.     Set a consistent time to meditate each day. I like to meditate first thing in the morning before my head gets filled up with the day. Maybe it’s easier for you to set aside a few minutes of your lunch hour each day. Or perhaps bedtime will work better for you. Put it into your calendar like any other appointment, and I bet you’ll soon appreciate the value of having an appointment with yourself.

4.     Find a community to support you in this effort. It can be challenging to stick to your commitment when you’re alone in it. When I first committed to meditation practice, I was lucky enough to find a sitting group that met twice a week on my college campus. These days, I meditate with friends online once a week, and have a group I meet with in person once a month. Having even just one other person to be accountable to, to share your experiences with, and support you in this endeavor will make a huge difference in helping you keep your intentions.

5.     Be gentle with yourself and stick with it! While somewhat simple and seemingly easy, meditating, and sticking to a commitment to meditate each day, can be very challenging. You’ve been wiring your brain a certain way for your whole life, so it’s not surprising that the rewiring that comes with consistent meditation practice may not happen overnight. It can sometimes be discouraging when it feels like meditating is nothing more than glorified worrying or list-making with your eyes closed. But do not fret! The simple act of setting your intention and following through each day is enough. Being kind to yourself during your meditations and about your meditation practice is imperative for it to have a chance to take root and eventually blossom.

6.     Lastly, remember, you can do this!

You CAN do this! And if you’d like, I can help!

You're invited to join me during the month of October when I’ll be posting 15-minute guided meditations online each day. You can sit with me!

If you’ve never meditated before, or perhaps you’ve dabbled but not yet committed to a daily practice, or perhaps you just want to see me each day, then now is your opportunity! In addition to providing you the basics of mindfulness meditation, those of us sitting together each day can support each other as a community (see #4!), plus I’ll be kind to you (see #5) and will cheer you on the whole time (see #6). As an added bonus, you can reach out to me with any questions or concerns you're having with your practice. I'm here to help!

Set your intention (see #1) and sign up to “Sit With Me in October.” I’ll send you all the information you’ll need to jumpstart your own mindfulness practice.

Woohoo!

Checking Your Weather

Earlier today I was reflecting on taking an internal weather report and the refrain of a 90’s rap song kept going through my head, “You better check yo’self before your wreck yo’self.” Given the rest of the lyrics in his song, I don’t think Ice Cube was necessarily referring to mindfulness. But if he was, I think he might have been onto something that is key to living mindfully: paying attention to what’s going on inside right now so as not to exacerbate our suffering.

What’s the weather inside of you like right now? Are you a turbulent ball of anger and frustration, chest and face heating up with contraction and short breaths? Are you light and airy, floating on a cloud of joy and excitement bubbling up as you approach some much anticipated event? Or are you feeling kind of heavy, dull and sluggish, trudging your way through this blog as a distraction from the boring, never-ending pile of work on your desk?

We’ve probably all had our own experiences of each of these internal weather patterns, and in all likelihood, we’ve already had a handful of different weather patterns today. Getting up and feeling a bit dazed or sleepy, feeling alert and ambitious after that first cup of coffee, feeling the sting of embarrassment and a stab of fear upon hitting “Reply All” instead of “Reply,” or feeling the lightness and calm of taking a quiet walk during your lunch hour.

The practice of mindfulness helps us to notice the weather as it is happening inside of us and once we notice it, we can choose a compassionate and skillful way to respond to whatever tempest, frost, or spring dew we are experiencing. You know, like Ice Cube suggests, checking ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Because without an awareness of what’s going on inside, it can be difficult to prevent the volcano from erupting and destroying everything in sight.

If we notice the tightness of a clenched jaw and a stomach tying itself into knots, we can look a bit deeper to uncover what may be the cause of our tightening. Knowing ourselves, we can then take better care of ourselves. Maybe we can pause for a few deep breaths, or open the mouth to stretch out the jaw. Or perhaps we could even remove ourselves from the situation that is causing such distress—if only for a few moments to regain some composure. This way instead of acting out of our clenched jaw, tight stomach, red-faced self, we can come back to a more centered and calmer place to address the situation at hand.

When I practice sitting meditation, I typically fluctuate between any number of weather patterns during my time on the cushion. Upon noticing the shift in my internal barometric pressure, I gently bring my awareness back to the feeling of the breath, finding a place of calm in the storm. It’s this repeated practice of checking the weather in the safety and comfort of my home that prepares me for life off the cushion. Having practiced it a zillion times before, I am comfortable checking myself throughout the day. And having noticed the multitude of shifting weather patterns in my daily sits, I am comfortable and less fearful when a big storm shows up on the horizon—I trust it will pass in time, and so, do not wreck myself.

So now is your chance to follow Ice Cube’s advice. Set aside a couple of times in your day to check your internal weather. It might help to set an alert on your computer or phone to remind you throughout the day. At the appointed time, take a moment to get still, taking a few deep breaths. Turning your attention inward, notice how you feel. You can notice physical sensations, recurring thoughts, emotions, or the absence of any of these. Pay attention too, to your reaction to your internal weather—do you want it to change? Do you want it to stay like this forever? Do you wish you’d feel something? Keep in mind, this experiment simply asks you to notice what’s going on; there is no need for it to be a certain way or for you to feel a particular way. Each feeling and thought is worth noticing. 

Having now checked yo’self, you can proceed in your day without wrecking yo’self. 

Getting Comfortable with Change

Sunday morning at about 3:20 I opened my eyes and looked over at my husband. The bed was shaking, we were shaking, the house was rattling. We were feeling an earthquake with its epicenter about 30 miles away from us. I remember thinking to myself that I was glad I’d installed some extra supports under our shelving last week.

After the shaking stopped, we hopped out of bed to survey the damage. Thankfully, apart from some rattled nerves everything else was just as we’d left it before going to bed. However, I know that for the thousands of residents living closer to the epicenter, life was turned upside down in those thirty seconds of shaking.

Everything is constantly changing. The sun sets, the moon rises. Leaves change colors and fall to the ground. Children grow up. Sometimes the inevitability of change can numb us to its effects and we forget that today’s experience will be different tomorrow. Other times the change happens in an instant, like Sunday’s earthquake, and we’re reminded quite suddenly of the impermanent nature of our existence.

Photo Credit Gregory Crespo Even that which seems permanent is subject to change... and trees!

Photo Credit Gregory Crespo

Even that which seems permanent is subject to change... and trees!

The fact that things are always changing can be a reason for suffering, disappointment or aversion. I remember when I was a 12 year-old at summer camp and my favorite counselor from the year before had not returned for my session. The other counselors kept reassuring me that “change is good,” but my tweenage self replied, “but cash is better.” Unwilling to accept the fact that things change and grasping at my past experience, I spent a good chunk of my time at camp bummed out about personnel issues instead of enjoying my experience.

At other times change can be a cause to rejoice. (I’m glad that my 12 year-old attitude changed and matured through the years!) When I get the flu often my first fear is that the body aches, fever, and malaise will last forever. But once I remember impermanence, I begin looking forward to healthier days and wishing away my present experience. I'm not really sure how sick I feel because so much of my energy is spent bracing myself against the pain and wishing that it would go away. 

I’ve learned through mindfulness practice that neither of these extreme reactions to change feels very good. Each reaction—grasping for the past or longing for the future—is a denial of what is actually happening. There is a happy middle way to approaching change that does not involve either of these extremes: just experiencing life as it comes. Something magical happens to aversion, grasping and impatience when I give my attention to my present experience. They don’t quite disappear, but they do become somewhat less gripping. I can be more comfortable in my discomfort.

So how can we learn to be with what is without wishing it away or trying to hold onto it forever? Mindfulness can help! (After all, this is a mindfulness blog!) Here are three things to try out today that will help prepare you to face your next change with grace and joy:

  • We can get familiar with change by following the breath for a minute or two. Close your eyes, let your body get still, and let all of your attention rest on the sensation of the breath as it comes in and out. See if you can notice the subtle shifts that take place. Does the temperature stay the same? What about the pace or depth? Can you inhale or exhale forever? What is it like to experience the breath as it changes?
  • We can take some time to feel gratitude during each day so that we honor what is and are sure to enjoy the present while it happens. For a week, keep a gratitude journal as you go to bed, writing three things you’re grateful for from the day. Notice how your heart and mind feel as you go to bed feeling grateful for the day you just experienced. How does this impact your experience of the present moment? Can you practice feeling grateful throughout the day?
  • Lastly, we can practice getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Find a comfortable position, and sit perfectly still for 5 minutes. Don’t scratch, don’t adjust your legs or hands, don't clear your throat. Watching how our minds work and react to discomfort (like a leg falling asleep) will prepare us when change comes and we feel uncomfortable. What is it like to simply be with that discomfort? Bring some curiosity and scientific investigation to the process. What does it feel like to react to discomfort? What exactly does the discomfort feel like? Tingling? Burning? Itching? Tickling? 

When it comes down to it, we can only respond to what is in front of us when it arises. Hopefully the next time you're faced with an uncomfortable change, you can fall back on one of these exercises—taking some time to breathe, finding one or two small things to be grateful for, and spending some time getting to know the uncomfortable—so that you can remain in the present moment, riding the waves of change instead of getting pummeled by them. 

The Ice Cube Challenge: To Raise Awareness... Generally

Lately I’ve noticed that the internet has been abuzz with something called the ice-bucket challenge, wherein people film themselves getting drenched in ice water and then challenge friends to do the same in order to raise awareness for various causes, most recently it’s ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  I hadn’t thought much about ALS until this started blowing up my Facebook news feed, so I guess the ALS Association has succeeded in raising awareness.

I’m all about raising awareness, particularly as it relates to the present moment and understanding our human experience. That’s why today I thought it would be fun to try the (drum roll please…) Ice Cube Challenge: To raise awareness… generally.

This challenge is to raise our awareness of our sensory experience, pain, pleasure, and the accompanying thoughts and emotions. To do it, all you’ll need is a cube of ice on a plate and a bit of quiet time. You don’t have to challenge any friends and you don’t have to post a video online. And rather than a challenge, I’d say it’s really more of an experiment. (But that’s not as catchy, is it?)

Take a moment to become still, bringing your attention to the sensation of the breath as it comes in and out. After a minute or so of this (or about 10 slow, quiet breaths if your kids are taking part), slowly place the ice cube on the palm of your hand. Notice what happens—in your mind and on your skin.

Pay attention to the sensation of the ice, perhaps noticing stinging, burning, or tingly sensations. Pay attention to what story is in your mind, perhaps it is one of needing to wait it out until the cube melts, or feeling scared you’ll damage your skin, or thinking about last winter and the snowman you made. Simply notice what goes on in your mind. Are you feeling particularly averse to this? Hoping it will end soon? Or maybe it’s a hot summer day, and this feels particularly soothing. Watch your thoughts, your physical sensations, and any emotional response you have to the experiment.

Photo Credit: Gregory Crespo The thoughts going through my mind: How long will it take for Greg to take this picture? The water is getting on my feet! Cold, cold, cold!

Photo Credit: Gregory Crespo

The thoughts going through my mind: How long will it take for Greg to take this picture? The water is getting on my feet! Cold, cold, cold!

When you’re ready, put the ice cube down.

Notice what thoughts, emotions, physical sensations are happening now. Relief? A desire to try it again? Feeling cold all over or just in your hand?

You did it! You raised your awareness! Nice work!

This experiment reminds me of the incredible impact that mindfulness can have on how we experience pain. Instead of getting caught up in the stories of the pain—“I’m getting frostbite, I’ll lose my fingers!” or “My head is going to hurt like this forever!” or “How could I have stubbed my toe, why wasn’t I looking where I was going?”—with mindfulness we take a gentle and compassionate approach to investigating the sensations of the pain as they arise. Without awareness, our aversion to pain can exacerbate our suffering, causing us to tense up and focus only on the worst-case scenario. If we can soften to pain, and look at it lovingly (instead of with frustration, fear, or annoyance), it will often transform before our eyes. Our own silent judgments often inflict their own kind of damage.

Taking a moment to feel our pain and let go of the judgments and the stories offers pain a chance to be felt. What did you notice with the ice cube? Did your fingers fall off? Did the stinging cold last very long, or did it shift as you paid attention? We might notice that the headache we thought would last forever actually comes in spells of intensity, waxing and waning, throbbing here, barely a dull ache there. And while the pain might not change too much, with mindful attention, your relationship with the pain will likely have shifted.

As the oft-quoted maxim states, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” There will be headaches, cuts, bruises, stubbed toes, and ice cube experiments. What we do with this pain is up to us—we can dwell in it, wallow in the stories and judgments, or we can feel it and show it our love.

I challenge you to see what happens the next time you have a headache. Get quiet and watch it for a bit with some gentle attention before you take any action.

Asking for Help

Please excuse the long absence from blogging… I’ve made it a point to only write when I feel I’ve got something worth sharing; and for the past few weeks I hadn’t been feeling like I had much to offer.

I’ve debated whether or not to write about the cause of my absence—depression, anxiety and shame—feeling that somehow the fact that I experience these feelings in some way makes me a lesser human being and a lesser mindfulness teacher. But I have decided to share with the hope that by bringing this pain into the light, I can hopefully help others who may have had or are going through a similar experience.

Every once in a while I find myself in what I can best describe as a funk—a negative mindset combined with low energy and condescending self-talk. These funks might last a day or two and subside with meditation and exercise. But occasionally, like the last month or so, the funk turns into something more than just a passing bad mood. In these instances a dark pervasive energy takes over my whole outlook. In this most recent experience it sometimes felt like my head was surrounded by a bunch of relentless gnats, buzzing their judgments and anger at me. As the weeks passed, it began to feel like I was staring at a big impenetrable wall in front of me. Negative thoughts kept me from making decisions, and convinced me that the world was out to get me.

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I teach meditation, I’m not supposed to feel this way! Why do I feel so hopeless? Why can’t I think or meditate my way out of this?

Image Credit: Gregory Crespo Feeling trapped inside my thoughts, my life passing me by.

Image Credit: Gregory Crespo

Feeling trapped inside my thoughts, my life passing me by.

I made deals with myself for deadlines to feel better; but with each deal, the deeper into self-loathing and self-judgment I’d fall. It seemed like my 45 minutes of daily meditation was the only respite from the relentless negative self-talk. But once off the cushion that voice would start berating me again. I did my best to bring mindfulness to my time off the cushion, but often the negative energy felt too strong for me to be with.

So I kept pushing it under the surface, hoping that by distracting myself and denying the existence of this shameful hurting it would somehow disappear.

It didn’t disappear. Instead, it bubbled over into some tearful conversations with my husband and then my parents.

I needed help.

In admitting this I immediately felt a huge relief. The shame I’d felt began to subside the more I admitted to myself and to my loved ones that I was struggling. I still felt confused and anxious, but it was no longer compounded by feelings of guilt and shame.

After I admitted that I needed help, my loved ones made sure that I got help. I talked to a professional, I had some bodywork done, and I took some time off. Things started to feel less heavy.

I was reminded to simply experience my pain and fear. I didn’t have to deny its existence or try to ignore it to make it go away. Just like I’ve learned time and time again, I have to be with what scares me with love and patience. I had tried doing that before seeking help, but it seemed like too much to handle. I can be so stubborn in my shame. So rather than ask for help, I was determined to go it alone, even if that meant unending suffering. I often forget that when it feels too difficult or scary to be with these emotions, it’s ok to ask for support. And it is probably a good idea to do so. This latest encounter with my darkness has softened me, and proven to me that holding my pain is far less frightening when I have backup in case things get to be too much.

I was also reminded that the fact I was struggling did not mean that I was any less lovable or worthwhile as a person. I am lovable and worthwhile just for being here (so are you!), regardless of what thoughts or feelings cross my mind at any given instant. My thoughts and emotions do not define my inherent worth, but my character is shaped by how I respond to these experiences.

My struggle didn’t automatically disqualify me from being a mindfulness teacher either. In fact, facing my suffering with compassion and patience has given me more empathy and confidence with which to help others. It’s difficult to show someone the way if you’ve never been there before. I’ve been there, and maybe I can help.

Happy In(ter)dependence Day!

In the United States tomorrow there will be plenty of hooting and hollering surrounding our annual festivities to celebrate our independence from Great Britain. Red, white and blue bunting will hang in communities throughout the country, and children will revel in the miracle of fireworks exploding above them. But more exciting to me is that tomorrow is a day when communities come together—there are BBQ’s, parties, family reunions and parades—all celebrating our independence. However, I see them as a celebration of our interdependence.

Sure, we’re all glad to be free from colonial rule. But I can’t say I spend too much of my day-to-day thinking about the Townshend Acts or worrying about British soldiers being unfairly quartered in my home. (Ok, there was a period of time when these thoughts were often on my mind—but I’m no longer a U.S. History Major living in Colonial Williamsburg, so now it’s easier for me to focus on other aspects of the holiday apart from the history.) However, what’s pretty cool about this holiday from my perspective as a mindfulness teacher bent on compassion and empathy, is that during this time of year as Americans we have an opportunity to remember our interconnectedness and common background.

Tomorrow is a chance to celebrate “Interdependence Day!”

We can remember that we’re all in this together. As independent as we may like to call ourselves, we could not make it without each other. Heck, we probably could not have won our independence without the help of French forces! Tomorrow is a chance to remember that the shirt on your back, the food on your plate, and the friends surrounding you are all here because of someone or something else (have a look at the Gratitude Webs as a reminder of how connected we are).

Our interdependence spans borders and so much more. From humans to animals to plants to the water cycle, our current existence hinges upon the existence of everything else. To me this thought is a wellspring of gratitude.

You don’t have to be an American to celebrate “Interdependence Day.” Here are a few ways you can celebrate:

  • You can take a moment to reflect on who and what got you to where you are right now and then offer some gratitude in their direction.
  • You can take tomorrow as an opportunity to connect with someone with compassion. Remembering that we’re all in this together why not be nice?!
  • You can make sure that those around you feel your love and gratitude—be it an extra hug, a kind note, or an act of compassion.
  • You can even send some gratitude to yourself! Shoot some love to each and every part of you that makes you YOU. Your heart that keeps beating, your lungs that keep breathing, and your brain that keeps running the show, each of these parts deserve thanks too!

What will you do to celebrate our interdependence?

On Talking Dirty

The title of this post is a bit misleading, because I’m not writing about a bunch of naughty stuff here—after all, this is a kid-friendly website! But I did want to spend a little time to explain how to clean up our speech and why doing so can help us gain some peace of mind.

Speech is powerful, something as seemingly innocuous as a few words can make or break your day. Think about the last time you received an unsolicited compliment, or worse, an insult. The compliment may have brought with it a little tingle of joy, and the insult may have been more of a stinging slap to the ego. Our words carry weight, and can leave an impact long after things quiet down.

So it seems that being aware of what we say and how we say it could help make our days better for ourselves and for those around us.

Wise speech is a topic in Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and many other religious, spiritual and ethical discourses. Recognition of our words’ inherent power calls for some personal responsibility, which is probably why many of these texts include guidelines for speaking. Instead of delving into a long-winded comparative exploration of these texts, I thought that the following two bullet points might be useful for cleaning up our talk.

  • First, pay attention to what you say. Without an awareness of what we’re saying, positive or negative, it’s going to be rather difficult to make any changes to our habits.
  • Second, before you speak ask yourself the following two questions:
 

Is it true?

Is it helpful?

 

If I can’t answer YES to BOTH of these questions it is an indication to me that I should probably rethink whatever I’m about to say—or maybe not say anything at all.

This has proven to be both a challenging and fulfilling practice for me. Even though it wasn’t easy at first, I soon saw the benefits of speaking cleanly. As difficult as it was initially, it now offers me a surprising amount of freedom. I can more actively listen to those around me and I’m not worried about being right or proving a point; instead, I’m more focused on creating a situation that is beneficial for each of us in the conversation. I don’t have to look over my shoulder to see if the subject of my gossip is entering the room. I am no longer worried about whether or not I have hurt someone’s feelings with my careless speech. I don’t have to juggle any white lies in my mind. And I feel good about the things that I have said. In fact, I find that the practice encourages me to give honest compliments when I’m not sure what to say to someone.

It’s a work in progress for me, and there are still plenty of times when I get to practice self-forgiveness when I’ve not been the wisest with my words. But it’s something I see the value in continuing. I hope you will too!

Try the two bullet points above for an hour today and see how it feels. Does it change the way you write emails? Does it change how you’re connecting with those around you?

Stay tuned for more on cleaning up our words—next time I touch on this topic I’ll talk about cleaning up our internal monologue.



Adopting a Whale Mindset

I’ve been thinking about whales lately. Something about them captures my attention so that when I read about them or see pictures or videos of them my heart starts to fill up with excitement.

Since we moved back to California I have made a point to search for whales anytime we drive along the coast. Finally, last month after a year of fruitless (whaleless?) gazing, I spotted a group during a drive around Big Sur. Greg pulled over and the two of us watched about 15 gray whales frolicking in a cove below us. Neither of us could peel ourselves away from the view, and we stood there in awe of their sheer magnitude and majesty.

As we got back in the car and continued driving down the coastline, I started to realize why I get so joyful and hopeful when I see or read about whales. To me, they offer an incredible example of abundance.

Whales must consume thousands of pounds of tiny food each day during the feeding season. Their very existence hinges upon their environment providing them with millions of teeny organisms to eat each day. I did some rough approximating, and determined that the human equivalent in consumption based on the scale of a whale-to-food ratio (each of the 4-6 tons of krill that humpbacks eat a day are 1/1000th of humpback size) would be like me eating 50lbs of poppy seeds a day! That’s A LOT of poppy seeds!

And yet, I don’t see whales setting up big krill farming operations to ensure that they will have enough to eat each year. Instead they seem to trust in the abundance of nature and go about their business—migrating up and down the coast, eating thousands of pounds of food a day, and singing lovely songs to one another.

Watching my thoughts during meditation, if I catch myself worrying with a mindset of scarcity, I work to adopt what I believe is a “whale mindset.” With my whale mindset I welcome the abundance that each day has to offer, be it 50lbs of poppy seeds or fulfilling and nourishing work like teaching mindfulness. 

Sounds True

Just a quick offering today for those of you looking to try out some mindfulness meditation. Have a look at this link from Sounds True where you can download some free guided meditations along with some relaxing meditation music. I think all you have to do is provide them with an email address and they'll give you six downloadable meditations plus nine tracks of calming tunes (you can always unsubscribe from their list if it isn't your thing).

I downloaded the guided practices today and am looking forward to listening. The downloads include some of my favorite teachers and musicians: Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jai Uttal, and Nawang Khechog!

Let me know what you think. Maybe one day you'll be downloading a guided meditation by me! :-) 

Children + Mindfulness = Good Stuff

A quick post to share an article I saw this past week: Why Children Need Mindfulness Just As Much As Adults Do.

As you probably guessed based on the programs I offer for children, young folks can and DO benefit from mindfulness practice just as much as their grown ups do.

Carolyn Gregoire writes in this Huffington Post piece that research points to mindfulness helping children thrive in school, deal with cancer and other chronic pain, treat autism and ADHD, and even lead towards self-actualization.

As someone who regularly practices and teaches mindfulness, it is heartening to see research findings like this. :-)

Contact me today if you're curious about how mindfulness could help you and your family!   

Loving Fear

Roomies! Eeek!

Roomies! Eeek!

I get scared.

A lot.

Sure, the big black jumping spiders sharing our apartment with us freak me out; but the fear I’m talking about usually rears its head right before I’m going to do something I love—like teach meditation, go traveling, start a business, or write a blog. Usually the fear comes around when I’ve been following my heart’s call, and it tries to convince me not to do what my heart has pushed for.

For weeks ahead of a big heart-led event, like this Mindfulness Teacher Training I recently attended, my fear starts creeping in. Not yet even discernable as a thought, it envelops me like a fog—trying desperately to obscure my heart from me. Before I know it, I’m clinging to every detail of planning for the event. As if having some control over part of it will somehow make the free-floating-fear-fog dissipate. Instead, it usually gets worse the more I plan.

Closer to the event the worries start to bubble to the surface. What will I say? Will people like me? What if I’m late? What if it’s not the right thing for me and my heart has been full of bologna this whole time?!

Logical Leslie takes over, attempting to shut these fears down. You’ve done this sort of thing before. You won’t know the answers unless you do it. It’s as though I’m desperately hoping that if I can logic my way through it, the fears will leave and I’ll get to be the self-assured confident person I aspire to be.

Unfortunately planning and logic-ing the fears away doesn’t usually work for me. Instead, this tends to amplify my anxiety. Even when I meditate on my fear each day, sending myself love, it still feels like part of the fear keeps eluding me. And that elusive part grows so big when I’m not meditating that it feels like a terrifying shadow following me around, weighing heavily on my heart wherever I go.

Yeah. It’s pretty miserable.

As the actual event gets closer I somehow convince myself that I’m not THAT scared, and that whatever messages my heart sent me months ago when I signed up for this, well, that those messages are probably still worth following. A stoicism overtakes me. I’m tight—tight shouldered, tight stomached, tight lipped. As if locking myself inside of me will somehow protect me from myself and whatever imaginary Other my fear has created.

At times like these, all I can do is breathe—following each breath with faith that my heart still knows the way.

A few minutes before my first solo trip to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010. Sure, I'm giving thumbs up, but I'm actually a nervous wreck in this picture!

A few minutes before my first solo trip to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010. Sure, I'm giving thumbs up, but I'm actually a nervous wreck in this picture!

So two weeks ago when I finally went to this training after months of fear and anticipation building up, I had the rare opportunity to really be with my fear as I felt it. I suppose it only makes sense that at a Mindfulness Teacher Training we’d be practicing a lot of mindfulness—awareness of our present moment experience without judgment.

I learned two surprising things about myself and my fear through this practice. 1) I was holding onto a story that “I” wasn’t enough, and that my vulnerability would reveal this to everyone around me. 2) I saw that my fear was afraid! Afraid that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore!

The first realization was big, but it’s one I’ve been working to uncover and disprove my whole life. My heart knows I am enough. Usually I just have to do these “scary” things to regain my trust in myself and my heart’s desire. Being vulnerable in these situations isn’t something to hide, rather, it is an offering. Honoring and respecting my vulnerability was a huge gift for me. We are ALL vulnerable, and if we try to hide our vulnerability we sell ourselves short, missing the chance to empathize and offer each other love and compassion. Like a new flower, I’m most vulnerable as I grow, and like that new flower, I’m also beautiful in my vulnerability. Can I keep viewing my vulnerability as an offering? I hope so.

Opening to the sun, beautiful in their vulnerability. 

Opening to the sun, beautiful in their vulnerability. 

The second realization was a doozy for me. My fear is afraid. Whoa! If this is so, why do I keep pushing it away? That’s not how I would treat a scared child! So why am I treating my fear like that? Being scared, having fear, this doesn’t make me less of a person. The heart that guided me to whatever scary place I find myself in, that same heart has the capacity to hold my fear with love. When all of my efforts revolve around strangling or stifling my fear, it just grows out of control. But by holding my fear with nonjudgmental loving attention, by becoming intimately familiar with all of its facets, its sharp edges, its soft parts and tight parts, I was able to let it go with ease and grace.

Realizing that my fear was afraid, seeing its vulnerability, gave me the empathy to hold my fear with love. And in holding it with love, not stifling or strangling it, I could let it go.

Let's see if these realizations stick, or if I'll get to re-learn them the next time I'm afraid. :-)