10 Simple Ways to Invite Mindfulness into the Present Moment

Mindfulness is not reserved for only those times when you are “formally practicing.” While taking the time to close your eyes and follow your breath, or taking a mindful walk can be enormously helpful,  we can build our awareness by bringing our full attention to our everyday daily activities. These are the tasks that have been so ingrained by repetition , so habitual that they are often times performed on autopilot. It can almost be like we are sleepwalking.  We sometimes don’t even remember doing them!apples_edit

Yet even the most mundane of these provides an opportunity to notice something new or bring some calm and clarity right into the here and now.  We can choose to bring a fresh mind and an open curiosity to these moments.

fb5743cb94565f05f1e441d1d9947874

Begin by simply observing the sensations occurring within the body and the mind, and being attune to the sights and sounds around you as you :
1. First wake up and get out of bed in the morning
2. Brush our teeth
3. Have a cup of coffee or tea
4. Eat a meal or a single piece of fruit
5. Wash the dishes
6. Fold Laundry
7. Take your first step outdoors
8. Exercise
9. Sit at a red light
10. Stand in Line (anyplace you have to wait)

You may want to start with focusing on one of these activities. Returning your attention again and again (the mind will most likely wander) to what you are seeing, smelling, touching, tasting…and to any feelings that may be arising within your body. What are you thinking while you are doing this activity? Not judging the thinking or the feelings, just noticing, as if you were simply a kind, impartial observer to the whole of the experience. You can name the thoughts (remembering, planning, worrying, etc.) and feelings (joy, sadness, excitement) without getting too attached to any of it.  See what happens.

Experiment. You may expand your awareness to encompass them all.

IMG_0821

 

 

 

Practical Applications of Mindful Leadership

Much of what I do each day entails fostering and facilitating mindfulness training for leaders of industry, academia and healthcare. Many of these leaders have already enjoyed an illustrious track record of success and innovation in their field. And some are just getting started. But wherever they are on their journey, they tend to share certain qualities: a quick mind, high emotional IQ, substantial educational backgrounds and varied and impressive work experience. Rarer still but counted among them are the managers who display true adeptness at leading by example, championing team members’ accomplishments and having a bold vision for their organization.artful cairns

So what is it that separates those who are great leaders from those who also model transformational leadership?

It is the willingness and ability to see things clearly and to act, as much as is possible, from that vantage point. This means being fully aware of our own perspectives, tendencies, and yes, biases in any given moment while remaining open to the ideas and beliefs of others (noticing the way the mind tends to quickly judge their opinions either negatively or positively) “without getting lost in a thicket of views.” This is mindfulness. It often includes seeing and doing things differently. It can be uncomfortable for a time like riding a bike, but gets easier with continued effort. Web

A practical application of this kind of seeing clearly and acting mindfully can be shown in the common vulnerability of organizations to experience breakdowns in communication or in the frequency of colleagues to hesitate rather than engage in authentic dialogue.

Here are some strategies to encourage rather than impede useful dialogue:

1. If you aren’t fully present yourself, dialogue isn’t possible. Remind yourself to put your phone away, make eye contact and sit still. Focus on what the person is saying, not what you’re about to say.
2. Plan your words carefully. Think about how you sound. “Well I just don’t get it” can be taken by the other person as they are being discounted. It may be wiser to say: “Can you explain this idea a bit more?”
3. Notice your own mindset before a meeting or important conversation. If you are frustrated or tired, you may want to engage in a few minutes of breathing or simply sitting, so you are less likely to react or be perceived to act in a negative way.
4. In the same way, observe when others are shutting down, tuning out, becoming defensive, not answering questions or blocking them. (And how many meetings are filled with people who don’t answer questions?!) When this occurs, you can try redefining the question or simply asking the question in a different tone.
5. Remember not to over-detail. It’s become pretty clear that a person can only maintain maximum full attention for only four sentences. Whenever you’ve gone beyond four sentences and are hoping for dialogue, be aware that the listener’s brain is getting crowded and attention is being diverted.*  Water lilies

*(Adapted from the collaborative work of Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Management Behavior at (IMD))

Transformational leaders, in every walk of life, know that change and growth are essential parts of being fully human. Rather than trying to resist these realities or maintain the status quo, mindful leadership embraces and even seeks new ways of thinking and being in their world.

THE MUSE, MINDFULNESS WEARABLES

What about a headpiece to help you to train your brain? As mindfulness continues to gain acceptance as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, it too has become lucrative fodder for inventors and investors who see its potential amidst the big business wellness industry.

Like the Fitbit wristband that measures your movements towards the goal of physical fitness, the latest gadget to help you meditate and improve your focus is called the Muse. At a price tag of about $299, this headband uses electroencephalography sensors to measure the activity of your neurons to detect when your mind is focused and when it’s not.muse2

The piece sits behind your ears with a thin plastic band with the sensors stretching across your forehead. With headphones on, the app begins to measure your brain activity as it coaches you through exercises to help you focus. For instance, as you begin the app prompts you to think about musical instruments or well-known celebrities. It then asks you to bring your attention to your breath. Counting your breath as sounds of nature play in the background; the sounds themselves can signify that your mind is starting to drift away from your point of attention.

A session last several minutes and produce for you a line graph that details brain activity in percentages of active, neutral, and calm states. You earn points (little bird icons) for the times you were calm.

The Muse creatively uses the latest in neuroscience to effectively engage the firing of neurons in our brain. This is good! It is fun. We all like fun. Another real positive is that this latest cool shiny object may actually be the catalyst to entice you to sit down and experiment with meditating. Its carrot approach that provides “rewards” for when you reach some moments of calm focus may keep you coming back and practicing. If you continue to work with it and see some noticeable benefits, (initial reviewers who are new to meditation have found it helpful), you may become interested in sitting and meditating without it or learning more.

In other words, it could lead to fully experiencing and working with mindfulness and its ability to transform, inspire and engender compassion.

Conversely, the nature of novelties is that they tend to peak quickly in popularity and fall from favor in the same fashion (most of my friends that ran out and bought a Fitbit are no longer wearing them or even know where they put them)! It will be interesting to follow up with Muse wearers in a year and see if they are still wearing them daily. 020206_trdp_s6 (1)

The marketplace eagerly responds to our perennial search for the magic bullet, the quick and easy fix. AND as anyone who practices mindfulness will tell you, instant gratification leaves you grasping for more and more in order to satisfy.

What neuroscientists have also discovered is that when you stop, the brain returns to its wandering mind. It’s our default mode network. Just as our muscles atrophy when we stop lifting weights or exercising, our brain shrinks when not being work and trained.

To learn to be become focused, present, and calm is a process and a daily discipline, just as eating healthfully and getting physical exercise is a lifelong journey. Time and effort are required to build consistent concentration and equanimity.
If you understand that the Muse or any similar device, can be useful if employed as part of a larger program, and you can afford it, give it a try. 060405_cr_2559 (1)

I would love to hear from you 365 days from date of purchase.

THE MUSE: MINDFULNESS WEARABLES

What about a headpiece to help you to train your brain? As mindfulness continues to gain acceptance as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, it too has become lucrative fodder for inventors and investors who see its potential amidst the big business wellness industry.

Like the Fitbit wristband that measures your movements towards the goal of physical fitness, the latest gadget to help you meditate and improve your focus is called the Muse. At a price tag of about $299, this headband uses electroencephalography sensors to measure the activity of your neurons to detect when your mind is focused and when it’s not.

muse

The piece sits behind your ears with a thin plastic band with the sensors stretching across your forehead.

With headphones on, the app begins to measure your brain activity as it coaches you through exercises to help you focus. For instance, as you begin the app prompts you to think about musical instruments or well-known celebrities. It then asks you to bring your attention to your breath. Counting your breath as sounds of nature play in the background; the sounds themselves can signify that your mind is starting to drift away from your point of attention.080322a8447 (1)

A session last several minutes and produce for you a line graph that details brain activity in percentages of active, neutral, and calm states. You earn points (little birdy icons) for the times you were calm.

The Muse creatively uses the latest in neuroscience to effectively engage the firing of neurons in our brain. This is good! It is fun. We all like fun. Another real positive is that this latest cool shiny object may actually be the catalyst to entice you to sit down and experiment with meditating. Its carrot approach that provides “rewards” for when you reach some moments of calm focus may keep you coming back and practicing. If you continue to work with it and see some noticeable benefits, (initial reviewers who are new to meditation have found it helpful), you may become interested in sitting and meditating without it or learning more.

In other words, it could lead to fully experiencing and working with mindfulness and its ability to transform, inspire and engender compassion.

Conversely, the nature of novelties is that they tend to peak quickly in popularity and fall from favor in the same fashion (most of my friends that ran out and bought a Fitbit are no longer wearing them or even know where they put them)! It will be interesting to follow up with Muse wearers in a year and see if they are still wearing them daily.

The marketplace eagerly responds to our perennial search for the magic bullet, the quick and easy fix. AND as anyone who practices mindfulness will tell you, instant gratification leaves you grasping for more and more in order to satisfy.

What neuroscientists have also discovered is that when you stop, the brain returns to its wandering mind. It’s our default mode network. Just like our muscles atrophy when we stop lifting weights or exercising.

To learn to be become focused, present, and calm is a process and a daily discipline, just as eating healthfully and getting physical exercise is a lifelong journey. Time and effort are required to build consistent concentration and equanimity.

If you understand that the Muse or any similar device, can be useful if employed as part of a larger program, and you can afford it, give it a try.

I would love to hear from you 365 days from date of purchase.

MINDFUL WALKING

IMG_0822

On certain days and for a variety of reasons, the idea of mindfully sitting for any length of time may evoke a strong sense of aversion. Of course, if this occurs, you always have the option off choosing to be curious about that aversion, working with it, as well as being receptive to any other strong feelings, thoughts and attending sensations that may arise.

Or you can walk. Mindful walking is an excellent way to get us out of our anxious, stressed and ruminating head and into the movement of our body. Our senses too become involved moment to moment with the world around us.

537In fact, sitting meditation is no more important than walking with presence. If you get right down to it, they are the same practice. We are learning to know and experience the contents of our mind and body.

However, walking meditation is different than simply going for a walk around the block, taking a nature hike, or to getting from point A to point B. Mindful walking is a deliberate practice that has us arrive in the present moment with each step.

If you have the ability to walk, you probably seldom bring much attention to it. Most of us take it for granted. After that initial year of so when we were toddlers and had to bring quite a lot of focus to it as we literally “toddled” from coffee table to Mom’s knees to the floor! But it is quite a miracle when you think of it, how we humans can balance on these feet of ours compared to the size of our bodies.

footprintsIf you like to try some walking meditation, you begin by becoming fully aware of the process of walking itself. To begin, stand with intention. Simply put, know that you have chosen to stand and begin to notice how your feet are firmly planted on the ground that supports you. Your arms are held loosely by your side. Your spine is fully erect but not rigid, standing with ease. Know that as you walk, you are embodying dignity and grace.

In formal walking meditation, we typically focus on the individual movement involved with shifting the weight of our body, lifting the foot on the other side, and then placing the foot on the ground. We may even find it helpful to say silently to ourselves as we walk, “Lifting, moving, placing, lifting, moving, placing.”

To begin, find a quiet place where you can walk undisturbed for about ten to fifteen minutes without distractions, and where you can walk back and forth for a distance of ten to twenty feet. Start off by walking slowly and paying attention to sensations on the soles of the feet as each part of the sole, from heel to toes, touches the ground. Notice how the body moves as you walk and how the arms may swing back and forth. If at any point you notice the mind wandering from walking, just acknowledge this and gently bring the focus back.   IMG_0506

You may soon discover that sometimes you may feel like walking more quickly, sometimes very slowly. And if family, friends, or coworkers become curious about what it is you are doing, who knows, perhaps a community of mindful walkers will sprout and naturally grow, supporting your and others’ endeavors!

 

 

 

 

I DON’T KNOW

Whether your brand of faith is organized or something more organic, practicing an attitude of trust in whatever is happening in your life right now without the certainty about what it means or how it will turn out,  takes a willingness to be okay with these three little words: “I don’t know.”

We know that it is true that we don’t REALLY know how things will turn out, but it is still hard to not run from this reality. Security is in many ways hard wired into all of us. But saying and meaning “I don’t know” provides you with a little space to pause for a bit. In response to any sense of inner or outer urgency you may be experiencing, you can wait and get a little comfortable with the unknown. Without reaching for the metaphorical security blanket, a blanket that comes in a million forms, you begin to see things as they are.

Read more

LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION

There is an ancient and transformative meditation that the Buddha encouraged that elicits a gentle spirit, towards ourselves and others.

It is a practice that opens the heart toward forgiveness, even towards those who we may have deemed enemies. We may have people in our life who have caused us great pain or we may feel have stolen from us our essential self.  This, of course, is an illusion (though it can hold a powerful and long lasting spell on us if we are not awakened to it).  With loving kindness meditation, we can be restored to remember who we are, to listen our own good heart, our own best Self.

We can discover the wisdom to open the doors and windows of the Spirit.  It begins, always,  with a loving kindness towards ourselves.  It is after all, almost impossible to truly love others…until we know, love, and accept ourselves.  From this touchstone, we can spread our ability to love towards those in our inner circle, and then out into the wider world.

Begin with the breath of mindfulness, it is the breath that calls us to this moment.  It is life’s breath.  It is the breath that breathes through you, that you do not have to control, that you do not ultimately control. Be in your body.  It is a good body, and worthy of your care and respect.

Each day, for as many days as you can be present, repeat these ancient words:

“May I be filled with loving kindness/May I be well in body and mind/May I be safe from inner and outer dangers/May I be happy/Truly happy and free”*

*(taken from Jack Kornfield’s Audio Meditation on Loving Kindness)

I do this, dear reader, and it is changing me.  I watched a woman laughing on a 100 degree day in Charlotte, NC with her labrador retriever, getting cooled off in a beautiful fountain in the park.  She was directing her dog to the places that he could catch a drink of water.  She maneuvered him so deftly, so joyfully…it was only as I left that I realized that she was blind, and that this dog was her eyes.  Or perhaps something more?

With loving kindness, we are given eyes to see.  She was seeing, though not without the aid of  natural sight.

And last night, I caught a glimpse of early summer evening light on two church steeples and the glint  of their brass weathervanes…signs of old New England, and felt blessed, blessed to be exactly where I was.  Steeped in love and kindness towards myself, the ones I have been given to love, and towards those who crossed my paths…all bathed in this light.

YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE?

“You only live once? False.  You live everyday.  You only die once.”  footprints

The first time I read this quote, I found it rather jarring. I guess it’s often the case that the truths we would rather not think about are that way. Yet often In order to wake up, it is only the words that slap like a splash of bracing cold water first thing in the morning that can bring us sharply to our senses. Doses of reality are commonly experienced as unpleasant.  Yet, they are helpful means to rearrange our perspective right here and now.

We do live everyday.  Mostly, we just do everyday. We do this and we do that. From one activity to the next text, we are getting things done.  And some of this is good!  It feels good to accomplish things each day, on a grand or humble scale. And it is easy to lose our balance and what we know to be true for our self if we don’t practice mindfulness along the way. We lose sight of our intentions behind the actions and our greater purposes can get pushed aside for yet another day.

cairn over rocksStopping daily, on purpose, to be present to what’s happening here in and around this body of ours is an antidote for this.  What are the sensations and thoughts happening right now? Can you invite awareness into this moment, no matter what is happening? This discipline flowers into a subtle but profound shift in how we are in the world.  If we keep at it and practice, practice, practice.

We will no longer need a two by four or thirty geese overhead or a full moon so big and iridescent it practically bowls us over to be arrested by the wonders available to us if we have the presence to be with them.

When you do die, which WILL eventually happen, as my father once said, “There will still be stuff in your inbox to do.”  These items will either get done by someone else or die themselves from lack of attention. Someone else will feed the dog, answer the phone, pay the bills, and so on.  Many traditions practice dying before you die meditations, which essentially encourage you to see the impermanence of all things and so to worry less and perhaps release a bit the compulsion to fit in one more thing, and live just this once.

Today, for five minutes, “die on purpose” to the big agenda, and see what’s here already, ready and waiting.

REALLY URGENT

What does REALLY URGENT mean?

Here are some of my first responses to this question:

1. Someone in your vicinity (including you) is on fire.    ??????????????????

2.  Someone in your vicinity or related to you:  is on the phone right now and has had a car accident* (the cause of which could have been the phone, but that is a story for another day), has had a fall down a flight of stairs, is in the deep end of a pool near you and obviously can’t swim, or appears to be having a heart attack or stroke (perhaps your own).

I think you get the gist.  There are life and death situations that need your immediate attention.

dreamstime_11087921 (1)AND YET we tend to live our lives like everything that calls to us needs our immediate attention.  It’s a pervasive sense of urgency and it’s filling our days with tight muscles and knee jerk reactions that reflect annoyance and judgment.

To further instill this idea, people have been telling us since childhood the necessity and even glamour of accomplishment.  All aspects of our culture champion those who DO the most each day, the multitaskers, the captains of industry.  These are the ones who always manage to squeeze in one more appointment, errand, or e-mail. Does this sound familiar to you?

dreamstime_12677239 (1)I’m inviting you to try something different today.  More accurately, I am encouraging you to test how true this belief in urgency is.  Watch for the tendency towards hurry and the need to get more things done.  When you feel a strong sense of urgency, try slowing down, stopping on purpose.

See what’s happening in your body, in your mind, around you, right now.  Investigate.  Can you sit with that overwhelming impulse to do anything at all besides just be here now, and look behind it for a moment or two?

Writer Mark Nepo points out wisely: “The doorway to our next step of growth is always behind the urgency of now.  …now more than ever, when the weights you carry seem tied to your wrists, you must not run or flail.”

???????????????????????????????Because being here brings you back to yourself. What is most important to accomplish today gets remembered in a way that reflects best your own authenticity and integrity. Today, for me, it’s noticing light snowfall, blackbirds flying over the gray landscape, writing and a few meetings, a dog walk.

Perhaps you will discover that choosing to be present to your moments and to take time to stop and be mindful, that one or two things on your “to-do” list don’t get done each day. And that the things that do get done are completed with more clarity and enjoyment and precision.

These are what Thoreau coined acts of voluntary simplicity.

Today, the tax prep sheets will not get done, (I have another few weeks), there will be no visit to the grocery store after working (there is enough food for today), so that I can present to my life without ceaseless rushing.

Here is a short meditation to get you here in your own life:               090223a2484 (1)

  • Center yourself and feel the urgencies that pull at you.
  • Feel the tension of each like a string stretched taut.
  • With each breath, untie yourself, one urgency at a time.
  • However briefly, breathe freely, even for a moment, untied to any urgency at all.

PUTTING YOUR STORY DOWN

For some time now, my three children (20-somethings) share this little mantra with me, often accompanied by a big grin. It goes like this: “Just do you, Mom!”

be yourselfWhether that means wearing a funky flowered hat, leading a guided meditation on the quad of a local campus, or making friends in line at the RMV, I find this call to just be myself a lovely affirmation every time I hear it.

I believe their call to me is an echo back from my daily attempts to encourage their discoveries about themselves ever since they began that discernment process.  Of course, like all of us, they have shifted and morphed as they “tried on” various versions of who of “being them” might include: jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, or adventurer.  Some they have tossed out of hand.   Others have become integral pieces of who they are.

And of course, like all of us, they have suffered. There have been grave losses, illness, dark times, and broken dreams.  Yet, I have seen these unwanted crucibles, time and again, transform them in miraculous ways to  live life fully present.  There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.

However, the most challenging experiences, in fact all experiences, can also be places where we can get stuck. 070711a7017 (1)

The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold onto particular stories in our personal history, identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.

Students come to my classes to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and  illness. There is much relief in discovering there is a common thread of suffering among participants.

Sometimes their first identifier when introducing themselves to the group is  along the lines of, “I am a recovering alcoholic,” “I am a survivor of abuse,” “I am a divorced single mother,” and so on.

It is powerful and healing to share these parts of ourselves as sources of demonstrated strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above.  Both speaker and listener are inspired and connect deeply with one other. They are living proof that we as humans can go through the worst and come out the other side.

Even more generally, an introductory description may be,  “I am a Mom/Dad/Lawyer/Nurse/ _” (fill in the blank.) There is a natural tendency to identify with our roles at home or in the workplace.

020206_trdp_s6 (1)All of these experiences, the challenging and the fulfilling, are hugely important facts.   These experiences help to shape us. AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than the sum of all our stories.      

Clinging to your personal history as it IS you, is at best incomplete and at worst, leaves you unable to see clearly what is here for you in the present. Self-descriptions are a good deal about what has happened to you, how you dealt with it, the work you do, and the people in your lives.

061006_cr_5659 (1)To widen our perspective, we become aware of what is around us and within us now, in this moment. Embracing your past and your roles from this perspective, you have a spaciousness to see that all your stories are not the final truth.

Honor and accept where you have been and what you “do”, utilizing it in the present where need be. But release the tight attachment to your stories.  They will not disappear if you let go of your over-identification. Nothing gets lost.

“Just doing you”‘ is the quiet call to the present…the modern version of “just be you”. Releasing our stories, if only for a time, allows us to widen the container of our life.

In this container, there is no need to put labels on who we are.  We can live unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are, we see things with fresh eyes.

“Just do you” is the vibrancy of noticing what’s around you right now: a smooth pottery coffee mug, cloud formations or rain at the windows.  People and animals, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for your enjoyment.

The authentic you arises naturally from this place. Try it.  You may discover a lightness and a rightness about being you in this moment.

060703_a_4739 (1)