MINDFUL HUGGING PRACTICE

There is truly no greater gift to give someone than your full, pure presence. We intuitively know this to be true. Perhaps you can recall a time in your own life when you’ve had the experience of someone’s complete and undivided attention. What did it feel like? The feelings may have been profound or subtle, but are almost universally life-affirming.

How were they embodying that presence? We often recognize that the body is relaxed and quiet; the emotional energy is clear and focused. Their shared thoughts back to you reflect a deep state of listening. meditation_selfcompassion

Yet we also know this is a rare occurrence. How often do we really give our full attention to someone? Our child is sharing their day and we are only partially listening while we cook dinner, fold laundry, return a work text. We are having a conversation with a friend or a coworker and simultaneously remembering a task undone or impatiently waiting for them to finish so it’s ‘our turn’. This is a human tendency. Fortunately, we can choose to communicate in a more skillful, even transformative way. Read more

THE TRUTH ABOUT JUDGING

We humans have a tendency to label things as good or bad, wanting more of the former and avoiding the latter at all costs. Yet this labeling is the antithesis of mindfulness. In truth, it is the root cause of much of our suffering and stress.

You don’t need to take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Throughout the day, see if you can notice how much of the time you are either liking or disliking almost everything that’s occurring.  dreamstime_11087921 (1)

Perhaps you may want to learn a new language. But you say to yourself, “I’m not good at languages” because in high school you struggled in a Spanish class. Once we label an experience, it colors all future experiences that even resemble it slightly. And yet is it necessarily so? Or is it just more thinking that we are inadvertently believing in any given moment?

These assessments, though occasionally conscious are more often unconscious. They are simply reflex reactions based on past experiences. Our judging mind is showing up in the habitual, predictable way as it has countless times before. This is not about fault finding or trying to control our thinking. The process happens so quickly that we are not even aware that we are unaware. These thoughts have become automatic.

However, we do have a choice. In fact, we have many choices. When we become present to the content of our thoughts, we gain access to our available choices-to respond rather than react to these thoughts. We open up a pause that can generate countless opportunities for new experiences.  dreamstime_12677239 (1)

I often share the story below with my students in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. It illustrates how our interpretations of what is happening is directly linked to the level of stress we may be feeling at any given time. And how our interpretations are never the whole story.

There once was a peasant farmer who lived in a remote village in China. His only means of plowing his fields was an ox. When the ox died, he flew into a panic about how he was going to feed his family. The villagers told him to seek counsel at the home of the old sage who lived on the outskirts of town.

The farmer said to the wise man, “I don’t know what to do. My ox has died and my family may starve. This is the worst thing that could ever have happened to me!”

The sage paused, looking him squarely in the eyes and said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The farmer walked away in disbelief. How could he say such a thing when here he was in such distress. He told his family and neighbors that this was no wise man; he didn’t know what he was talking about.

However, the next morning the farmer discovered a strong young horse grazing in a distant field. He trained the horse and in short order, he was able to plow his fields better and faster than before. Not only that, the horse ate less feed than the ox. The farmer thought to himself, “You know, maybe that old man is wise after all. Finding this horse was a stroke of great luck.”

He decided to go the sage and thank him. “You know”, the farmer explained, “I thought you were crazy for telling me that maybe it wasn’t bad luck that my ox had died. But now I know you were right, I found this horse and he plows even better than the ox. It has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

The sage again looked into his eyes and said, “maybe yes, maybe no.”

The farmer, incredulously said, “Are you kidding me?” Shaking his head and walking away, he thought “This guy is nuts! I am not coming here again.”

A few days later, his only son was riding the horse while working and was bucked off. He broke his leg and the horse had to be put down. Inconsolable, the farmer recalled that the sage had indeed spoken wisely and decided to go back to seek advice. After sharing these latest events, he said to the wise man, “Now you have to admit, this is absolutely the worst thing that could have possibly happened to me!!”

And the old man, calmly and lovingly replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”cairn over rocks

This infuriated the farmer so much, he stormed back to the village and told anyone who would listen how ridiculous the so-called wise man was.

The very next day, troops arrived in the village to take all the able-bodied young men away to fight in the on-going war. His son was the only one who was saved. His broken leg spared him from almost certain death.

When we can step back and pause with a mind that does not truly know the answer, we can extend our view. We can see potential in all occurrences, gaining a bird’s eye perspective, a wisdom on our own lives.

THE COMMUNITY OF CONTEMPLATION

IMG_1248Last November, I attended the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies in Boston. There were lots of luminaries in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, education, philosophy, and the humanities. Counted among these were the Dalai Llama, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Arianna Huffington, and so many more who are well-known to those in the field, reflecting the explosion really of mindfulness into all aspects of our modern society.

Some presenters shared results of mindfulness programs they have implemented in particular clinical settings or in business. Several neuroscientists provided the latest in their research on what is happening in the brain during contemplative practices and where in the brain it is happening. The goal of all this being the very mission of the conference: to “advance our understanding of the human mind, reduce human suffering, and enhance our well-being.”

Read more

EFFORTLESS ACTION

waves7You may be  familiar with the adage “Try, try, and try again. Then, at last, youwill succeed.” And there can be some truth in that. Preparation, practice and experience are vital ingredients to success. But we also know that constant pushing, striving, and doing in a largely effortful way is stressful and often, self-defeating. Philosophers and neuroscientists alike agree that our most productive, creative self emerges when we are in the flow. Engaging with our lives in a relaxed but keenly receptive way.  Author Edward Slingerland in his book “Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity” calls this “embodied cognition.” It’s often referred to as being “in the zone” or acting spontaneously: it is a state of complete mental focus and ease.

Read more

Where it begins.

Rewiring Your Brain Starts Here

Rewiring Your Brain Starts Here

REWIRING YOUR BRAIN

2006-3-8-tree-pathUsually we start a new personal development program (whether that be practicing mindfulness, getting physically fit,  eating more healthfully) with a great burst of enthusiasm. Yet after the initial “excitement” wears off, and despite our best intentions, we sometimes find we don’t follow through on our commitment. We don’t persist. Perhaps we don’t see immediate results so we become disheartened. Our efforts dwindle or we stop altogether.

And the not so helpful habits…they’re right there. So instead of feeling bad about this, perhaps even a little guilty, what to do? How do we re-engage in this moment our commitment to be more present?

We can remember that we are re-wiring our brain and that this takes time. Mindfulness practices are among the most powerful agents of brain change known to modern science. Practitioners have know this for centuries from their own lived experience: feeling less stress, having a better memory, enjoying greater happiness. And now in a growing number of research studies, we are seeing actual changes in brain structure that confirm these experiences in the lab, in a relatively short period of time.    The first study to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter was led by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Participants in an 8 week program who practiced mindfulness an average of 27 minutes a day at least 6 days a week were shown in MRI imaging to have measurable changes in brain structure, the regions associated with learning, memory, self-awareness and compassion were growing (grey matter increasing), and those regions involved with stress and anxiety were shrinking (grey matter) decreasing.

Read more

WEARING TOO MANY HATS?

wearing_many_hatsHat wearing isn’t what it used to be. Prior to the 1950s, nobody would think about going outside without a hat, no matter the season. In fact, your hat, whether you were a nurse, a white collar executive or a gas station attendant told the world a lot about your socioeconomic status and what your occupation was.

The phrase “wearing too many hats” emerged relatively recently. In the past century, the pace of our culture and the workplace evolved rapidly, women AND men are now homemakers AND marketing specialists, parents AND business owners. Of course, so much more too, we may coach a little league team and dance the two step on a Saturday night.

While much of this is good and brings meaning to our lives, it also means that we must juggle.

And anyone who has attempted to juggle knows that juggling for any length of time is hard to do! Even if you are good at it soon enough it is very tiring. And as you add more objects, it becomes more stressful. Then what can occasionally happen? It all falls down.

There is where mindfulness can be enormously helpful. When we carve out time for just being, intentional non-doing, we reconnect with who we are at our core.

Read more

WEARING TOO MANY HATS?

Hat wearing isn’t what it used to be. Prior to the 1950s, nobody would think about going outside without a hat, no matter the season. In fact, your hat, whether you were a nurse, a white collar executive or a gas station attendant told the world a lot about your socioeconomic status and what your occupation was.

The phrase “wearing too many hats” emerged relatively recently. In the past century, the pace of our culture and the workplace evolved rapidly, women AND men are now homemakers AND marketing specialists, parents AND business wearing_many_hatsowners. Of course, so much more too, we may coach a little league team and dance the two step on a Saturday night.

While much of this is good and brings meaning to our lives, it also means that we must juggle.

And anyone who has attempted to juggle knows that juggling for any length of time is hard to do! Even if you are good at it soon enough it is very tiring. And as you add more objects, it becomes more stressful. Then what can occasionally happen? It all falls down.

There is where mindfulness can be enormously helpful. When we carve out time for just being, intentional non-doing, we reconnect with who we are at our core.

No matter how we may be feeling in any given moment, we are not simply our roles or our obligations. While it is quite human to define ourselves in this way, it can often limit us, creating a growing sense of imbalance in our lives. Mindfulness widens the lens.

We are not just divorced single parent, primary care giver, one who is always putting out “fires” at work and at home, or task master. When we sit in meditation practice, we put all of that down for a bit.

I invite for the next five to ten minutes to try this: Breathe steadily and naturally, and with each out-breath put each of the “balls you are trying to keep in the air” down-one by one.    

Release the striving and to the best of your ability right now, the judging too.

hats

Within this space, something new may arise. Perhaps it’s the knowing that we are more than the sum of our parts. We glean that truth that any given role doesn’t truly define us. What is deepest and most valuable in us can be recalled and recaptured so that we discern what to do next from that perspective.

May you approach the moments of your and those to come with a clarity of purpose and a sense of calm.

A NEW YEAR: WAIT A MINUTE

photo_3664_20090119Have you got started on your New Year’s resolutions yet?

You know the list is usually the same every year for most folks.  To the gym, diet, no gossiping, budget better.

For me, it’s less sugar and alcohol.  It’s been 5 days already and I’m feeling great!  (I was being facetious right there!)

But have you noticed that we often start off these self improvement projects with great enthusiasm and that enthusiasm dwindles as daily life takes over and so do our habitual reactions to stress, coupled with the real hard work of substantive change sets in?

Maybe it’s because we set ourselves up to fail by announcing these sweeping changes without getting ourselves ready, really ready, in this very moment.

Read more

NOTICING

090514a127_2780 (1)Have you ever noticed that a lot of the time you are just not noticing? For instance, you are driving to the grocery store or to work (both of which you have done a million times), and not remembering when you arrive how you got there.  Just traveling on auto pilot, or absorbed in a phone conversation, you have missed the ride. Perhaps you think, “I’ve done this trip so often I could do it in my sleep!” And guess what? In a very real way, you are!  Conscious but not truly awake.

Our daily tasks of necessary repetition and ritual, whether it brewing the coffee, throwing in another load of laundry, walking the dog, become so automatic that these activities become the things we do between the times we actually are doing something that we are fully engaged in and are aware of.  The unfortunate thing is, if we add up all of these moments each day, we are actually “checked out” for a solid portion of our life.

You may recall the internet sensation a few years ago, where participants were asked to watch for how many times three white shirted basketball players came onto a scene. A shocking fifty percent missed seeing a person in a gorilla suit sauntering in, pumping his chest.  Even when looking right at him!  This phenomenon, coined “inattentional blindness” has been demonstrated time and again.

Read more