Your Inner Superhero

What does it feel like to be a strong, brave superhero? How does it feel to cower in fear?

Two young Super-Butterfields. :)

Two young Super-Butterfields. :)

Take a moment and pretend with me that you are a strong superhero, fueled by empathy, compassion and a brave heart. I don’t know about you, but my chest puffs up and my shoulders roll back—I feel fearless and courageous with each deep breath. Now try the other option, cowering in fear from an unknown assailant. My breath shortens, my shoulders tense up, and my stomach is already in knots.

Ok, so thankfully that wasn’t real life. But it’s incredible to me to see how much the mind can impact physiological responses in my body. Just by calling these scenarios to mind, I was able to conjure up a physical reaction.

In real life, that sort of thing happens all the time. I get stressed about an upcoming deadline—my heart rate quickens, my shoulders tense, etc. Or, I think about something I’m feeling grateful for—my heart opens, I relax, and my body loosens.

How do we teach children the impact that their minds have on their bodies?

Through play of course!

Take a few minutes with your child to come up with a handful of personalities to act out together. Here are a few I came up with:

  • A ballerina or musician nervously getting ready for opening night
  • A brave lion
  • A grumpy troll
  • A joyful child, filled with wonder at his or her first trip to Disneyland
  • A business person on the way to a very important meeting
  • An elderly person
  • A superhero, ready to save the day
  • Someone feeling suspicious of the people surrounding them
  • A lost tourist
  • An explorer mapping new terrain
  • [Your ideas here!]
  • I’d love to hear what other personalities you come up with! Please post them in the comments!

Together, write your ideas on slips of paper and take turns drawing them from a hat to act out together or for one another. If you don't have a child, you can always act some of these out with a friend or at your mirror!

Once you have exhausted all of your ideas discuss which personality you each enjoyed the most. Why did you like that particular personality? Which personality was the most uncomfortable to do? What did each of you notice happening in your bodies during your play-acting? You may need to offer some examples that you noticed: tense shoulders, happy heart, scrunched forehead, etc.

The next time you or your child feels anxious or nervous about something, try parading around the house like a brave superhero for a bit and see what happens. :-)

Getting Out Of A Rut

Ever find yourself in a rut? Stressed out at work, too exhausted to cook dinner, anxious thoughts flitting through your head all evening to the point that they’re keeping you up at night, then not sleeping well and feeling unable to focus the next day? That’s pretty extreme. Maybe you’re just feeling kind of blah about stuff and aren’t sure why or how you got to feeling this way.

Photo Credit: Greg Crespo Stuck in a rut, it's easy to miss the beauty surrounding us.

Photo Credit: Greg Crespo

Stuck in a rut, it's easy to miss the beauty surrounding us.

I just finished reading Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, and it had some helpful ideas for how to get out of the ruts in which we so often find ourselves stuck. In addition to advice on getting out of your rut, the book provided straightforward and easy to follow instructions on cultivating a mindfulness practice of your own. I found Williams and Penman’s perspective refreshing and realistic. While the book offers eight weeks of mindfulness meditations and contemplations, I will just focus on the “habit releasers” that they include with each week of practice.

As creatures of habit we have a tendency to get into habitual ways of thinking and acting, and in turn, glossing over some of our lives with conditioned ways of being. Think about it the next time you drive somewhere. How much do you actually have to concentrate on the act of driving? What else are you thinking about during that time?

Once we train our brains how to do something, the neurons fire along the same course in our heads, carving out a well-traveled path. In many cases these well-traveled neuro-pathways make our day-to-day living much easier. Imagine if you had to put a lot of thought into the act of putting your pants on each morning. Unfortunately though, we sometimes put ourselves on autopilot without really meaning to. Williams and Penman explain, “You can easily end up thinking, working, eating, walking or driving without clear awareness of what you are doing. The danger is that you miss much of your life this way."

It is possible to be more mindful or aware of what is going on moment-to-moment. While having a daily mindfulness practice will help hone your skills and ability to maintain moment-to-moment awareness, you don’t have to have an established practice to try shaking things up a bit with these habit releasers that Williams and Penman suggest in their book:

  • Sit in a different chair or move the position of the chair you typically sit in for your next work meeting or at the dinner table. What is the view like from this new perspective?
  • Go for a walk. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Even if you can’t get out in nature, see what nature you can find sneaking out of the world around you. What new things, people, or places did you discover? Pretend you are an explorer in uncharted territory.
  • Value your devices. Before plopping down in front of the T.V. or Ipad for a night of mindless entertainment, decide what show you really want to watch or what website you really want to visit that evening. Make a point to only turn on the T.V. or Ipad for the program or website you have picked out, and to turn it off once it’s over. At the end of the evening, make a note of how it went, what it felt like to only watch or read what you wanted to.
  • Go to the movies at a set time and choose whatever movie looks best to you at that time. Don’t go with the movie picked out ahead of time. Even if none of the movies really appeals to you, go to one of them anyway. Let yourself be consumed by the film you chose. Williams and Penman explain, “Often what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected—the chance encounter or the unpredicted event.”
  • Plant some seeds or take care of a plant. Studies have shown that just the act of caring for another living thing can improve one’s life. Enjoy watching the mystery of life unfold as you tend to your plant. Notice the smells, colors, and textures. Soak it all in.
  • Think of something that used to make you happy that you don’t do anymore. Maybe it’s riding bikes, flying a kite, drawing or cooking. Set some time aside this week and just go do it. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it—just do it and see what happens.
  • Do something for someone else. You could let someone else go ahead of you in line, or send a thoughtful note to a friend. It can be as small and as simple as smiling at your neighbor. Notice what it feels like to connect with a smiling heart.

I dare you to try one these this week. Just see what happens. You might find you agree with Williams and Penman that “it’s difficult to be curious and unhappy at the same time.”

Do you have any habit-releasers that have helped you get out of a rut? Please share below in the comments!

Quiet Eyes

A few weeks ago I posted a gratitude activity that highlighted how interconnected we all are. I recently finished reading Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith and this passage stood out to me. It articulates the power of contemplations like gratitude webs:

In order to know the truth of interconnectedness we need to look at the world with what theologian Howard Thurman calls ‘quiet eyes.’ It might be through silent meditation that we see the hidden patterns of connection that make up our inner life. It might be through pausing long enough to realize where a plate of spaghetti comes from. However we do it, softly receiving reality with quiet eyes rather than pinpointing objects and events as separate and distinct opens up our view instead of enclosing it with predetermined boundaries. We take in what is appearing before reactions and conclusions get fixed. When we relax into this mode of perception, a different perspective on reality becomes available to us.
Image: Greg Crespo So much more than "just a cup of coffee!"

Image: Greg Crespo

So much more than "just a cup of coffee!"

So often we get stuck in our patterns of naming this or that as definitive objects. The example I used last week of a cup of coffee showed that the coffee is so much more than the warm liquid in my mug—it was a unique confluence of the efforts of many, natural processes and certain causes and conditions. When I look upon my cup of coffee as "just a cup of coffee," I lose out on the wonder and the larger perspective that viewing it with “quiet eyes” gives me.

And it’s not just with tangible objects. I’m prone to delineate and define my emotions or situation in life as "this or that," "good or bad." When I look at a feeling of shame or anger rising inside of me with these narrow eyes, that’s all I see, shame or anger. And sometimes, (actually, usually), these narrow eyes are accompanied by some judgmental sunglasses, declaring said emotion as worthy or unworthy, positive or negative.

Looking at anger with “quiet eyes,” I see and experience a tightening in my chest, my face growing flush, the breath quickening, and an elevated heart rate. I notice the painfulness of these sensations. I notice a layer of fear emanating from behind my judgmental sunglasses, "You will always feel this angry!" "How dare you feel that way?!" "You’re a mindfulness teacher, you’re not supposed to have these thoughts!"

But thankfully, by using my “quiet eyes,” I can see the anger as just another layer of experience resulting from a confluence of causes and conditions.

My "quiet eyes" recognize what I did or said, what someone else did or said, and what thought or occurrence brought this emotion to the surface. My “quiet eyes” turn “I am so angry” into “Right now, I feel anger.” In addition to the thoughts and sensations associated with my anger, my "quiet eyes" also see the vast open sky of awareness that stands as background to any emotions I might have.

In Faith, Sharon describes it like this: 

The open nature of awareness can bare anything without becoming damaged. Relying on this unsullied nature, we can see whatever happens to us as part of the rising and passing of all phenomena. This understanding doesn’t make us passive, but gives us the ability to see things with a different perspective—knowing that there is always an intact place within us. Then we needn’t be paralyzed by our suffering.

“Quiet eyes” help me remember the intact place within me. Unruffled. Accepting. Aware. 

Image: Greg Crespo Awareness as vast as the sky.

Image: Greg Crespo

Awareness as vast as the sky.

Planetary Perspective

“…The Earth, as Buckminster Fuller used to famously say, is a spaceship, Spaceship Earth. We are in space already. It’s just that we haven’t brought that into our perspective as we live here on Earth. The Overview Effect is simply the sudden recognition that we live on a planet, and all the implications that it brings to life on Earth.”  --David Beaver, Co-Founder of the Overview Institute

Today we celebrate Mother Earth. As I contemplated how best to share my gratitude and awe of our planetary home, I remembered two websites that made the rounds a while back. Each of them offers a unique perspective from which to view our place in the universe, and hopefully each will offer even more reason to celebrate Earth today.

It’s easy for me to get stuck in the mental construct that my reality is all that exists and that I am the center of the universe. Heck, we are all at the center of our own universes, right? Scrolling through the interactive “Scale of the Universe” is an easy way to dispel this self-centered mind-state. By scrolling left and right you get pictures depicting the relative scale of everything in the universe—from the smallest to the largest.

I’ve looked at this site a couple of times, and each time it humbles me and fills me with awe. How can we be both so huge, compared to the smallest unit of scale, and yet so minute, compared to the vastness of the observable universe? It makes me feel lucky to experience life on this planet, in this form. Our Earth holds so much of our reality, but is just a tiny piece of the fabric of the universe.

Unifying the vast and minute, former Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell shares a realization he had upon seeing Earth from space, “…I had studied Astronomy, and I had studied Cosmology, and fully understood that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in my partners’ bodies and in the spacecraft had been prototyped in some ancient generation stars. In other words, it was pretty obvious from those descriptions, we’re stardust.” The largest and the smallest, we’re all made of the same stuff!

Growing up, I wanted so badly to be an astronaut. Then I realized how much math and science were involved, and I decided to look for other career options. But I think that this video about the “Overview Effect” experienced by astronauts like Mitchell explains why I wanted to go to space. If you haven’t watched it before, give yourself a 20-minute break and enjoy.

In the video, philosopher David Loy describes what some of these astronauts came away feeling. “…That experience of awe, is at least for the moment, to let go of yourself, to transcend the sense of separation. So it’s not just that they were experiencing something other than them, but that they were at some very deep level, integrating, realizing, their interconnectedness with that beautiful blue-green ball.” This description makes me smile, because while I didn’t become an astronaut, my meditation practice has offered me a similar understanding.

So happy Earth Day! I hope these sites will help you to take a moment today to revel with wonder and awe at our glorious home. 

Packing and Waiting: Tips for Mindful Travel

We’ll be heading out of town tomorrow for a family trip, so I thought I’d share some resources I found helpful in preparing for our journey. My friend Jared Gottlieb has written two blogs for National Geographic about traveling mindfully. Tapping into the wisdom of meditation teachers Jonathan Foust and Sharon Salzberg, Jared gives some great pointers on packing and traveling mindfully.

Packed and waiting...

Packed and waiting...

As I lay out my clothes, toiletries and other necessities for our travel, Jonathan Foust’s advice about packing is at the forefront of my mind.

"Jonathan says that while packing light is a priority, the decision-making process should always support a 'sense of safety and preparedness.' … It’s about being conscious of what’s important to you, Jonathan says. 'When I’m really mindful about what I carry, I feel more secure — I’m more open to the unknown.'"

Knowing that I have the essential items I'll need helps me to relax into the experience of traveling. I'm not constantly thinking about whether or not I brought the right stuff because I already spent some time figuring out a plan.

Once I fill up my backpack for the trip, I know I’ll be turning to these ideas from Sharon Salzberg to help me to best “appreciate the journey, especially the more unpleasant parts.”

When I remember to, I like to “wait with lovingkindness” as Sharon recommends, cultivating “a sense of benevolence or recognition that our lives are connected and that everybody wants to be happy.” Standing in line for security is less stressful when I’m wishing my fellow travelers a safe flight and happy travels.

And her advice to “be where you are,” is keeping me grounded today, as I sit with anticipation and excitement about what is to come. For now, I am here in my home, my feet tapping with a hint of anxiety and eagerness for tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will be someplace else, and I will work to pay “attention to what’s happening around [me]—and within [me].” Because I trust that “when [my] attention is focused on where [I am, I’ll] arrive at [my] destination in the best possible state of mind.”

There are more tips and practical advice on the two National Geographic articles. Check them out before the next time you hit the road! 

How and Why Mindfulness Aids in Self-Control

Researcher Rimma Teper’s work looks into why and how practicing mindfulness can help regulate our emotions. Her interview with Emily Nauman over at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center gives some scientific backing to what many mindfulness practitioners have found through experience.

Rimma’s explains:

"The link between mindfulness and improved emotion regulation is certainly not a new one. What our model does is examine the nature of this relationship and helps to understand how mindfulness may improve emotion regulation.

There is often a misconception that mindfulness simply leads to less emotionality, or that mindful people experience less emotion.

Our model proposes that this is not the case. Specifically, we suggest that mindfulness leads to improvements in emotion regulation not by eliminating or reducing emotional experience, but rather through a present-moment awareness and acceptance of emotional experience. This sort of attentive and open stance towards one’s own emotions and thoughts allows the individual to still experience emotion, but also to detect emotions early on and stop them from spiraling out of control." 

In my own practice, it’s that “attentive and open stance” towards my emotions that helps shrink them down from the giant monster in my head to something more manageable. Instead of running in mental circles to avoid feeling something unpleasant, I can see the emotion for what it is and go from there. 

You can read the entire interview here: How Does Mindfulness Improve Self-Control?

Gratitude Webs

Gratitude is one of my favorite practices, mostly because it makes me feel good. :-) 

When I practice gratitude I feel like my life is full of abundance and that I am connected to the rest of the world. It helps me cheer myself up when I’m bummed out and it helps me to savor and enjoy things when I'm feeling great. 

Feeling grateful!

Feeling grateful!

I have plenty of ways I bring gratitude in my daily life, but today I’ll share one that makes for a fun art activity.

Drumroll please... Gratitude webs!

You’ll need a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. If you’re feeling extra artsy, or if you have kiddos participating too, you’ll probably want some crayons or colored pencils as well.

You can each come up with something or someone that you feel grateful for—something that brings you joy to think about, and that you feel happy is in your life. Maybe it’s your computer, your pet, your spouse, your parent, the dinner you just ate. The possibilities are limitless. Today, I chose my morning cup of coffee.

Ok, write that item down in the middle of your page. You can circle it if you like. I chose to draw a picture of the item too. 

A starting point.

A starting point.

Now start thinking about what all came together to make that person, place or thing possible. Did it need nourishment? Did someone build it? Did you get it at a store? Did a farmer plant it?

Make a line coming out from the center item going to one of those things that made it possible. If you can think of a lot of things that made it possible, make a lot of lines!

The web is growing.

The web is growing.

Now, take some time to think about what made those things possible. Did the farmer water the plant? Did someone drive it to the store? Did someone sew the cloth? Did your item need sunshine? Love?

Make a line coming from the outer items to all of these new parts you’ve just reflected on.

You can keep doing this until you run out of space, or out of imagination.

A lot of things had to come together for my morning cup of coffee. There is quite a bit to be grateful for!

A lot of things had to come together for my morning cup of coffee. There is quite a bit to be grateful for!

Way to go! You’ve just created a gratitude web! The next time you feel grateful for your item, you can also feel grateful for all of that webbing you added around it. Without all of those other parts, the thing you were feeling grateful for wouldn’t be there to begin with! No matter how many times I do this activity, I'm always amazed at how connected we all are. 

Nothing Special

Seems like I spend a lot of my time either looking forward to stuff or dreading it in a mess of anxiety. Meanwhile, I overlook whatever ‘boring’ thing is happening right now because I’m too busy distracting myself on the internet or making up stories about the far more interesting future.

Every once in a while though, usually after I’ve just meditated or worked out, I have the clarity of mind to stop and appreciate nothing special.

Look at that guy! 

Look at that guy! 

Most of the time my mind is so much happier to be distracted from that nothing special. At least, it thinks it’s happier. But really, with the anxiety it’s tight, constricted, limited and with the daydreaming it’s half asleep in a distant Fantasy-land. When my mind wanders to either of those places (which is far more often than I’d like) it is as if I’ve decided that whatever is happening right now isn’t all that interesting or worth noticing. Let alone worth living!

I don’t really feel like I decided that though.

The more I’ve practiced mindfulness, the more I realize that my mind has a mind of its own. It will just flit off to la-la land without asking permission, or dive bomb into a pit of endless fear after the hint of a threat. All of this creates hours of entertainment. Oh the drama! The comedy! But I wouldn’t say that this 'entertainment' makes me happy.

Hours and hours of sitting on my meditation cushion noticing thought after thought, as they come and go, as they contract my stomach muscles and limit my perspective, or as they open my heart and loosen my shoulders, all of this noticing and paying attention to what circus my mind is putting on for itself is punctuated by the fact that someone else, someone apart from my thoughts and emotions, some distinct I, is watching it all.

And I have a choice about what channel watch.

What happens if I turned the station to the present moment?

Instead of taking up the whole screen in my mind, those seemingly incessant thoughts of pushing or pulling about the future now only run along the bottom like a headline news ticker. And the main program, the channel that I chose, is far more interesting.

Ohh! There is a banana slug scooching on the back porch. And I think I can see the fern unfolding its leaves in front of me! Oh, wow, this orange is really juicy!

Sometimes, when I get wrapped up in the present (or rather, unwrap the present), even the news ticker fades away. Instead of defining who I am—a worrier, a dreamer—those are just thoughts I have sometimes. What I glossed over earlier because it wasn’t sensational enough for my media-saturated attention is now so engrossing that it’s quieted the chatterbox who lives in my head.

It’s weird how when I start to notice nothing special, it somehow becomes something special after all. Sweet.

Try it yourself!

Technology is often one of my main escapes from the present. But let’s take a second to let our technology (as in, this blog post) guide us into the present. I challenge you to stop what you are doing on the Internet for just two minutes. Minimize your tabs, turn off your monitor, put your phone on silent (after you finish reading these questions!). And now notice how you’re feeling. What’s going on around you? What’s going on inside of you? What channel is playing in your brain? What does it feel like to disconnect, if only for two minutes? 

Bill Treats PTSD with Mindfulness and Yoga

Each day, soldiers return home from combat often ill-equipped for the mental and emotional stress of life after combat. Suicide rates among veterans are upwards of 22 per day, and occurrence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among vets from Iraq and Afghanistan is between 11 and 20% according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mindfulness and integrative health programs may offer some relief for these veterans.  

A couple of weeks ago I brought up the utility of mindfulness for athletes, and today I wanted to briefly highlight an article about how mindfulness and integrative health programs may soon be among mental health options for veterans in the U.S.

Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) introduced The Veterans and Armed Forces’ Health Promotion Act of 2013 in November. Among the many programs it seeks to introduce for members of the armed services, the bill would offer a variety of wellness programs aimed at veterans including mindfulness, yoga therapy and healthy eating. While some of these programs are already in place, the bill would make them more widely available to all veterans. 

Congressman Ryan, a practitioner and fervent advocate of mindfulness, explained to the Huffington Post that mindfulness is “helping the veterans, it’s low-cost, it’s low-tech, and there aren’t any side effects… If that doesn’t cross partisan lines, I don’t know what’s going to.”

Sounds reasonable to me!

Have a look at the full article here: Why This Congressman Is Fighting To Bring Mindfulness To Veterans

I'll keep an eye out and post an update on the bill's progress. At the moment, it has been referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

Listening Safari

Here's one for the kids (and any grown ups who like to act like kids)! Practicing mindfulness can be quite fun!

I have found that a great way to get children interested and engaged in mindfulness training is by inviting them to participate in a way that they already feel comfortable doing.

Most children are eager to let their imaginations run free. The animal ears activity is a fun way to bring mindfulness into creative play.

Perk up those ears! What do you hear?

Perk up those ears! What do you hear?

The intent here is to foster mindful listening—an open awareness of sound without judgment. Inviting children to pay attention to the sounds around them is an easy entry into mindfulness. And getting to do so through play makes it all the more fun.

With your child, brainstorm some animals that have good hearing. Each of you can choose one of these animals to ‘be’ for this activity. Together, put on your animals’ ears. Now pretend that you are out in the wild and need to be extra still and extra quiet in order to listen to all of the sounds around you. You may even invite them to close their eyes so that they are relying only on their animal ears.

Try this for about a minute, or longer if they are enjoying it! You could even try it in a few different environments--inside, outside, at the park, etc.

After you have finished listening to your environment(s), share what you heard. Did you hear loud sounds? Quiet sounds? Sounds from inside your body? Other animals? Vehicles? Ask your child how the different sounds made them feel. As an animal, did it make him want to run and hide? Go out hunting? Stay still?

Finally, invite your child to draw a picture of some of the sounds she heard that she doesn’t usually hear.

You can take a listening safari together at home, or even on a walk outside (though, you may want to keep your eyes open for that!).

I’d love to hear in the comments what animals you were, and what sounds you noticed. :-)

My Dirty Laundry

Laundry. I've never much liked doing my laundry.  Not that it is something most people revel in, but I've harbored a real aversion to it. Growing up, I paid my mom a portion of my allowance so she would do my laundry. And in college, I would buy new underwear to avoid a trip to the laundry room (I know I'm not alone here!). So last week, when I was assigned to do kitchen laundry while on a Lovingkindness retreat, I wasn't sure that I could embrace the task with much lovingkindness!

Upon arriving at the retreat center, everyone attending is assigned a chore for the week.  And throughout the week, in addition to sitting and walking meditation, this becomes a working meditation--a chance to see how we can bring our practice with us to other parts of life after the retreat. On past retreats I’ve been assigned to wash dishes and sweep walkways, and I gained new appreciation for the satisfaction I could find in those tasks. So when I was put on laundry duty I was curious to see if my opinion of the chore would change.

Feeeeed me! 

Feeeeed me! 

The retreat was spent in silence. No talking. No reading. No writing. No computers! No phones!! But what was allowed and encouraged was quieting the mind by internally repeating the phrases, “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. And May I live with ease.” Morning, noon and night I kept these phrases on an internal loop--wishing them for myself, wishing them for people I like, wishing them for people I don’t particularly like, wishing them for animals, wishing them for all beings everywhere. You get the idea.

I wished them while sitting still. I wished them while eating. I wished them while walking. And yep, I wished them while doing the laundry.

All of the dirty rags, aprons, towels, and veggie cloths would get piled high into a grocery cart that I rolled out into the crisp Massachusetts air each morning on my way to the laundry room. The task was simple enough. Shake out the excess gunk, load the laundry machines, three pumps of sanitizer, one scoop of detergent, unload the laundry machines, load the dryer, hot and regular for 45 minutes, fold, fold, fold, put away. Repeat daily.

Despite my aversion, I quickly grew to enjoy my job. There isn’t much stimulation on a silent retreat, and an hour of folding towels fresh from the dryer on a snowy afternoon provided much entertainment. With the well-wishes on repeat in my head, I sent kind wishes to each towel, rag and apron, extending my positive thinking out to all of the people in the kitchen who might use them, and then extending further to wish kind thoughts to all those who would benefit from the work of the kitchen. Each afternoon turned into a little laundry love-fest, wherein I left with two laundry baskets full of folded towels and a great feeling of satisfaction--amazing what a little lovingkindness will do!

---Ok, this next part seems kind of cheesey. And when it was happening it felt kind of cheesey. I debated whether or not to post this because it felt kind of trite. But here it is, because despite the cheesiness, it was one of those 'aha' moments and I think it's worth noting.---

I noticed that even away from the laundry room, the rags and aprons were making their way into my consciousness. One afternoon as I sat in the meditation hall, working through some painful emotions, all I could see in my head were lines of laundry hanging out to dry. They seemed to take up the whole frame of my mind’s eye. Not sure what else to do, I went with it and started wishing the laundry well. And I started well-wishing my painful emotions. After doing this for a while, instead of just seeing laundry hanging out to dry, I saw a huge expansive sky, my laundry just a small speck at the edge. I realized that the line of laundry would soon be dry, and I’d fold it and put it away. Then all I’d be left with was that big beautiful sky. The emotional pain I was struggling with was beginning to dissolve. I guess sometimes those things just want to be washed, dried and put away with care.

More laundry will come. With each new day I will fill up the basket. I’ll have dirty laundry until the day I die. I can choose to push it away, buy new underwear, pay my mom to do it, or let the dirty pile fill up my view and blot out the big sky. Or I can choose to send it well wishes and open-heartedly welcome each dirty rag and painful emotion as a chance to send some love to the world.

I tend to think I’ll choose the latter of the two options. Though, I imagine it will depend on how I’m feeling each day and whether or not The Gap is having a sale on underwear. 

Here's my challenge to you for the weekend: Pick a chore you don't particularly like. As you do the chore this weekend, pay very close attention to what's going on in you head as well as physically what it feels like to do the chore. See if you can maintain that focus throughout the activity. Can you give the task at hand your full attention? No phones, no worrying about tomorrow, no TV? If you feel up to it, try sending some kind wishes. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease. Or whatever feels right. Notice what you're thinking and feeling once you complete the task. I'm not promising rainbows, butterflies, or a beautiful expansive sky, but the simple act of noticing what is happening just might change your experience. Try it for yourself! 

Some Nuggets of Wisdom 2.0

Probably the closest I'll get to anything resembling Burning Man... Inspiration Village at Wisdom 2.0.

Probably the closest I'll get to anything resembling Burning Man... Inspiration Village at Wisdom 2.0.

Please pardon the absence… I’ve spent the last couple weeks doing some personal development. Between the Wisdom 2.0 Conference and a week-long silent meditation retreat, I haven’t had much opportunity to digest all that I’ve taken in recently, let alone blog about it!

Even though it took place waaay back last month, I wanted to share a little bit more about my experience at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference.

Before signing up, all I knew about Wisdom 2.0 was a fuzzy idea that it was about technology and mindfulness. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go—descriptions were vague, it was pretty expensive, and I wasn’t sure how much I liked its target audience of tech-elite. I came up with plenty of excuses and dragged my feet for a good month or so before coming to my senses and finally signing up for it.

Looking back, I can't help but laugh at my hesitance. Um, hello. I have a website called Mindfulness Online, my program is all about using technology to spread mindfulness. How did I not sign up for this conference immediately?! 

Ego. Fear. Self-consciousness. Anxiety. Doubt. I guess those were some of the reasons.

Tense with anxiety, my tightened jaw and I made our way into the crowded hall of over 2,000 attendees. Soon though, my anxiety and my jaw loosened as I began to open to what all the conference had in store. Guided meditations for 2,000 attendees, group yoga with 2,000 attendees, and exercises in mindful communication with our seat mates meant that instead of being surrounded by strangers I needed to protect myself from, I was part of a community, each of us with something valuable to offer. Cool!

Here’s a quick-ish run-down of some of the nuggets I learned once my heart opened to the possibilities at Wisdom 2.0:

  • Technology is not inherently evil/distracting/a terrible drain on society— The general consensus at the conference was that the addictive nature of our gadgets can leave us wanting more meaningful connection with ourselves and others; while these same gadgets can also offer us new avenues for connection with people all over the world. It all depends on how we use them. Ok, I knew this, but I will admit that I’ve held off from getting an iPhone for fear of the limits of my own self-control.
  • Tech people are alright—Some of my misgivings about the conference had to do with a group that I viewed as the “other.” In the past year of living in SF, I have not been too enamored with the tech-class as my perception of these young, newly-minted millionaires had been rather biased. But meeting these “others” and seeing how they too are human just like me, working to find a deeper meaning in their lives, reminded me to hold off my judgments. How easily I forget that life can be challenging for each of us, regardless of our social status or paycheck.
  • We should be working on our eulogies instead of our resumes—Arianna Huffington gave a great talk on a new metric for measuring success that includes health, happiness and well-being. As she put it, no one at your funeral will be remarking on your ability to put together a Power-Point presentation. Though, that’s probably just because they never saw my awesome presentation on insurance that included an animated slide of Richard Gere topless, doing a flip on a jet ski. But still, I’d rather be remembered for how I loved and lived than how many LinkedIn contacts I had.
  • Spacious presence is within us all—If you have the time, stop what you’re doing and watch this presentation from Eckhart Tolle, or at least bookmark it and watch it when you can. It’s so easy to get caught up in the fantasy world of our thoughts and emotions, we often forget that under all of that is an unending field of spacious presence. We’ve got it with us always. We just have to remember to take a breath, get still and tap into it.
  • Gratitude is interactive mindfulness—Yeah, I already feel pretty strongly about this. And Brother David Steindl-Rast did an excellent job explaining how we can do better at bringing more gratitude and in turn more joy into our lives. We just have to stop, look, and go. Just like crossing the street. Stop means wisdom, a quality of the mind that comes by allowing whatever comes our way to grab us. Look means awareness. We see difficulties along with a way to solve them. Go means acting with a mind/heart of compassion. Check out Brother David’s talk, he is far more eloquent than I am.
Conference attendees shared their gratitude on one of many chalkboards.

Conference attendees shared their gratitude on one of many chalkboards.

My biggest take-away from the conference though, isn’t really something I can sum up for you on a bullet pointed list. Rather, my experience during the weekend gave me a renewed sense of self-confidence in who I am, what I am pursuing, and my intentions for pursuing it. All of those reasons I had for not attending the conference dissolved into a more confident, excited and love-filled version 2.0 of me. Woohoo for Wisdom!


Maybe NFL Players Can Be Role Models?

NFL Mindfulness Coach and sport's psychologist, Michael Gervais of the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks, spoke at the Wisdom 2.0 conference this weekend in San Francisco. (I'll tell you more about the Conference in the coming days!) I bet that while you were watching the Big Game you weren’t thinking much about mindfulness and compassion, and you probably didn't think the players were either. I get it, watching beefy dudes tackle each another doesn’t conjure images of serene meditators or inspire compassionate communication.

But one of the reasons the Seahawks may have had the upper hand was because they embraced mindfulness practice, yoga, and positive visualization as elements of their training and the team culture. Gervais said that as a team, they worked to have "one heartbeat"--55 players and 22 coaches, hearts beating in unison.

Back in September I read this ESPN article about the Seahawks' unorthodox training and was tickled to see that mindfulness had made it to the NFL. Yesterday Gervais went further to explain their meditation practice and how the Seahawks treated every game of the season as a championship opportunity. Big or small, every moment counted. 

While I know their mindfulness practice wasn’t all that earned the Seahawks their championship rings, it isn’t difficult to imagine how mindfulness contributed to their winning season. Seahawk Russell Okung explained to ESPN, "Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice."

Before this weekend, my students and I came up with three mindfulness related skills that support Okung’s assertion on the importance of meditation:

  • Focus- Through continued meditation practice (the article says they began back in 2010), the players likely honed their abilities to focus and concentrate both on and off of the field. As I often say to my students, practicing in the calm of your bedroom gets you ready to use your mindfulness in more stressful times. And as Gervais described yesterday, the stress dissolves as the players become absorbed in the present moment.
  • Resilience- With their enhanced focus, it would be easier for players to let go of mistakes and triumphs in order to more fully engage with the task at hand. Gervais called this "Failing Fast." Instead of feeling angry towards themselves or a teammate for a botched play, it would be easier to let go and start over. 
  • Visualization- Instead of filling their heads with negative thoughts, “You’re not strong enough,” “You need to play harder,” “You’ll never win playing like that!” the Seahawks and their coaching staff worked to positively visualize the future. In order for visualizations to work, players first had to develop an awareness of their thoughts, because without recognizing and befriending the negative ones, there would be little space for the positive ones to take hold.

Gervais added that the team culture also emphasized compassion and empathy, which were also key elements to the Seahawks’ success. (How did Miami do this year?) When we are aware of our mental landscape, we notice that others experience similar highs and lows. Viewing our personal highs and lows without judgment creates space for our compassion to grow, both for ourselves and for others. By treating their players as people, I think the Seahawks got it right.

Never thought you’d be reading about compassionate football players, right?

Do you use mindfulness in athletics? How has it helped up your game?

Love love love

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Last weekend I attended the funeral of a friend's father. What struck me most about the remembrances that his family and friends offered was how much everyone spoke of his love. He loved his family, he loved life, he loved his friends, he loved his neighbors, he loved his patients. And they all knew it. Because he had told them and shown them so each day.

I want to live a life with that much love.

Let's keep the Val in Valentine's Day... or something like that. Let's not forget what this is all about. Let's make sure that today is a day that we are open and generous with all our love. One thing I've learned about love is that the more I give out to the world--to my family, my friends, strangers, enemies--the more fantastic I feel. 

In addition to the normal ways we think of expressing love, my mindfulness practice has shown me how fostering gratitude and kind wishes for others and myself has increased my capacity to love.  Today I'll be boosting my gratitude and kind wishes quota and I invite you to join me!

Gratitude: Try this simple gratitude activity today. Quick, come up with 5 things you are grateful for! They can be small, simple things like the smell of your coffee or a hug from a friend. Or they can be BIG, complex things like the Internet or your family. 

Especially when I'm down, stealth gratitude like this helps me gain some perspective, and often reminds me that we're all connected in one way or another.

Here's what I came up with this morning: 1) I'm grateful for all of the support and love I've felt as I launch this teaching program; 2) I'm grateful for my husband Greg's design sense and unwillingness to quit while updating my website; 3) I'm grateful for a ride to San Francisco this morning so I can go to the Wisdom 2.0 Conference; 4) I'm grateful that there's a conference all about mindfulness and technology happening only 45 minutes away from my house! ; 5) I'm grateful for the chance to share with you . 

Kind wishes: This one may take a little practice because it can sometimes feel forced at first. But I've learned it's the kind of thing that you can fake it 'till you make it. Try sending yourself three or four kind wishes for the day.

Here's what I'm feeling for myself today: May I be calm, may I be happy, may I welcome new surprises with ease and joy, may I be open to all possibilities. 

If sending them to yourself is too difficult, try sending them to someone you see almost every day who makes you really happy. You can send personalized and specific ones like the last two of mine, or you can do broader wishes like my first two.

Try doing these for a couple of days and notice how you feel.

Ok, that's a lot of 'self-love.' I found that I've got to build that up before I can genuinely go forth and spread my love around to others. 

My favorite way to share my love is through attention. Giving someone my complete attention when I am with them seems like the biggest gift I can offer.

How do you show your love? However you do, make sure you do!

Love love love.

From Fantasy to Reality

I wrote this post back in July but have been hesitant to post it until I could commit to blogging regularly. Ok, I suppose this means I've committed now! :-)

Fantasy = Reality! Smiling students after a mindfulness lesson. :-)

Fantasy = Reality!

Smiling students after a mindfulness lesson. :-)

Shortly after my husband, Greg, and I first got engaged, it seemed that everyone wanted to know all the details about our future wedding. Without having really made any decisions or doing much research, we kept responding the same way to those who asked. “In the Shenandoah Mountains, in the fall of next year.”

The fall of next year seemed far enough away and the Shenandoah Mountains sounded like a nice place to get married. We kept repeating these details, and whenever I imagined our wedding that’s what I saw. I guess it’s no surprise that we got married along the Shenandoah River the next fall. 

But had I asked ‘engaged Leslie and Greg’ how wedded to this plan they were, I think they’d both would have said, “Let’s wait and see how the planning goes.”

I found myself in a similar situation last spring as Greg and I prepared to move across the country from Washington, DC to San Francisco. Everyone wanted to know what I planned to do out there. Without having made any decisions or doing much research, I'd respond, “I’m going to teach kids how to meditate.”

I’d say it over and over without any idea how I’d go about making this happen. It wasn't like this was out of the blue; I had been meditating on it a lot myself, and kept getting a rather vague, yet oddly explicit, directive from within, guiding me to this response.

Just like our adventures in wedding planning meant countless hours of research, decision making, and preparation before we wound up at the Shenandoah River in the fall; this latest journey has required similar efforts to wind up where I am today, ready to launch a kid-friendly online mindfulness meditation program.

Switching careers is hard. Starting a business is challenging. But I’ve kept with it because each time I take steps toward making this dream happen doors seem to open and the universe seems to affirm my decision.

After a curriculum training I started out teaching my nieces via Skype. Even though I’d be drenched with nervous sweat at the conclusion of each 15-minute session with them, I’d also be exhilarated. This felt right.

Last fall Greg and I left DC for a three-month trip to Asia, our return tickets booked for San Francisco.

While we traveled, we also dreamed and plotted about our future in California. Where we’d live in SF, what we’d do on the weekends, who our friends would be, what I’d do for work. On one day of dreaming, Greg suggested I start my own online program to teach kids mindfulness. He reminded me of how much I enjoyed working with my nieces and how it had worked well online. We talked more specifics that day, and have been talking around this idea since then.

On the eve of my online launch, I felt surprisingly similar to how I did in the days leading up to our wedding, in the Shenandoah in the fall. There is a current of terror mixed with joyful excitement as I see far-off fantasy becoming reality.

I teach kids how to meditate.

Hello! Welcome!

Welcome to the Mindfulness Online Blog!

Here you will find tips and ideas for bringing mindfulness and compassion into your family, some of the latest mindfulness headlines and research, as well as some stories from my personal experience with mindfulness.

My mindfulness practice has been instrumental in making me who I am today. I am grateful that it has been a part of my life for so long, and that more and more people are beginning to experience the benefits for themselves.

I hope that this blog and my website may help to encourage you to try mindfulness for the first time or to deepen your practice. I would love to hear how mindfulness has impacted your life.