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.

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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.

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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

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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!

 

 

 

 

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

TEA SERVICE

When my three children were very young, they had the great privilege of sharing tea with their maternal great-grandmother twice a month.  Grannie was a force of nature, wearing pumps and skirts well into her 80’s and she could deftly navigate the rickety basement stairs in her 1920’s bungalow.  She and my grandfather raised their five children here (with one bathroom I might add), my father being the eldest.photo_15279_20100421

“Oh, I just have to pop downstairs to get one more thing”, she would say. The kids would always be curious as to what Grannie would emerge with. There was an endless array of “stuff” packed away down there. The eaves too were a walk through the American decades.  Having survived the depression, nothing was getting thrown away and everything had three or twelve purposes. And shelf life was not in my grandmother’s vocabulary.

Yet, with all this clutter below the surface, every room in her home was always tidy. And her values were clear water clean. She valued children, and the raising of them.

And you would see this, always, in afternoon tea.

Grannie would lay out the table lovingly.  If it were around Valentine’s, the kids were treated to a lace tablecloth and pink napkins, heart-shaped cookies with red sugar crystals.  If it were September, she would set out linens in brown and orange and serve soft ginger cookies. Every sweet homemade from scratch.  Oh, and always more than one kind. There were bone china cups, dainty and different, that would always match the theme. Even the pin on her sweater would reflect the season or occasion.

080322a8447Young as they were, I sensed their anticipation when I would tell them we were going to Grannie’s house.  It could be “just” a Tuesday at 3 o’clock, but there was nothing just about it. There was celebration and presence in every moment.

They listened intently as my grandmother taught them how to play Pinochle, an old-fashioned card game. They would sit at the table for an hour or more, sipping tea and munching on cookies, being listened to and heard while sorting out their hand.  Grannie, offering suggestions on a card, asking lots of questions.

The kids were learning the art of conversation and the richness of time that we have all but forgotten. Some of us, I’m afraid, have never had the grace to learn, yet.

It is simple really.  This being present.  But it takes practice.  Kids get it and so do the elderly.  The wisdom of knowing that the most important person is the one that is in front of you right now. That love and connection can only be cultivated in the here and now.

The sacredness of that time.  And I the fortunate bystander. My children telling their great-grandmother about their friends and school and what they like to do and what their favorite color was.  Grannie sharing about how she liked to swim and grow roses and read.  The four of them laughing while she regaled them with what their mother was like when she was little or the kinds of shenanigans their grandfather would get himself into.

iStock_000012366100XSmallThis memory a reminder, a pointer, that ordinariness and specialness are always both, depending on what you bring to the party.

“We come to realize that daily life is a theater of grace with continuous performances.  The sacred is here and there and everywhere. – Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

NOTICING

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. 090514a127_2780 (1)

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.

In Smithsonian (Sept. 2012), psychologist Christopher Chabris and journalist Mark Strauss set up an experiment where participants were told to jog behind a man and record how many times he touched his hat. As they jogged, they ran by a staged fight where two men were savagely beating a third man.  In broad daylight, 45% missed the altercation entirely and at night, that number rose to 65%. trapeze artist

We become so focused on what we think we need to see or so confident of what we know is there that nothing has the ability to enter.

While anthropologists posit that there is indeed an upside for why we have this ability to filter attention–specifically the benefit of being able to disregard distractions while trying to focus on a task, it appears we have become too proficient.

The limitations of inattentional blindness are felt everywhere. Complicating this issue is the overloading distraction dumping at all times.  The myriad forms of instant communication continuously clamoring for our attention, leaving us breathless…and mind (less).

We feel the effects of our inattention in automobile accidents, addictions, rises in ADD/ADHD, and the rampant sense of isolation that occurs with the breakdown of intimacy and congeniality in all manners of relationships.  The lack of simple presence of attention leads to misunderstanding and disconnection, and this includes our relationships with ourselves.

But there is a way out, and it starts today, in the here and now.  The only time there is.  We can begin in this moment to begin to purposely notice.  We can purposely and voluntarily take mini breaks from our devices throughout the day.

We can pay attention to our breath and body as we enter our car on the way to the grocery store. We can take stock of our surroundings while driving.  We may discover a beautiful old home along the road that we never knew was there, all these years on this same path.  We could discover the cool breeze or warm sun on our face with our windows opened just a bit. Or we can simply marvel at how this car of ours gets us safely from one place to another .

In other words, there is nothing that is unworthy of our noticing.  All parts of our days can be enriched by our very presence.

photo_12481_20100214Gary Snyder, in his work The Practice of the Wild points powerfully to this:                                  

”All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher that the religious institutions originally worked with: reality.  Reality-insight says…master the twenty- four hours.

Do it well, without self-pity.  It is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning.

One move is not better than the other, each can be quite boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition.

Repetition and ritual and their good results come in many forms.  Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick–don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits.

Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our “practice” which will put us on a “path”- it is our path”.

 

 

 

 

SCIENCE AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

dreamstime_13267733It is human to crave certainty.  Especially as people find themselves feeling less and less safe in a world where senseless violence occurs randomly, indiscriminately. People seek out messages that promise salvation, that give unwavering answers to their ultimate questions of the whys and hows and meanings of life.  With underlying fear serving as a primary motivator, it is any wonder that many major faiths perceive any conflicting idea as a threat to their “proclaimed truth” that must be squelched?

And yet the world is an uncertain place.  Immature religion makes specific promises to those who follow blindly and there are many takers.  But a faith that believes that our current knowledge is not complete, but is continually being revealed, takes the greatest leap and reaps the greatest reward.   It is Religion that knows that Science is not at odds with its practice. Instead of a penchant for polarizing, splitting our thoughts into atoms of absolute truth or fervent absolutism, we can know that we all hold only partial truth and we all but “see in a mirror darkly”.  Instead of a world view that smacks of self-righteousness, forming our views of what is right and what is wrong on either the most rigid religious beliefs or the latest scientific discovery, we can find God in science and science in God.

Full MoonAmong the many discoveries made by the Hubble telescope in the last decade is that there is considerably “more” to the universe than scientists had previously believed.  I mean a lot more.  It is expanding.  And this expansion is happening at increasingly faster rates as time passes.  Twenty years ago, scientists posited that there were two galaxies for everyone alive. Now, that figure is closer to nine galaxies for each of us or about eighty billion galaxies total.  Each of these  galaxies harbors at least one hundred billion suns.  In our galaxy, the Milky way, there are four hundred billion suns-give or take 50 percent-or sixty-nine suns- for each person alive.planetearth

One more mind bender: according to the Hubble European Space Agency, cosmologists estimate that what we can “see” in our universe accounts for only about 15 to 20 percent of the “matter” that is actually out there.

These astronomical statistics affirm a spiritual sense of awe in the vastness and mystery in which we live, direct my daily personal concerns with a backdrop of perspective, and strengthens my firm belief in the perpetual power of creativity from the single cell organism to the complexity of several billion galaxies.

I don’t know about creating the universe in 6 days and resting on the 7th, literally speaking.  I do know that it has provided structure for thousands of years to millions of Jews and Christians, satisfying the human need to know how we began and ingeniously giving a rhythm to life.  When Darwin shook up this notion of our origins, what remained was still the hand of order and amazing adaption.

I have a dear friend who believes that the scientists today are the true theologians.  That those devoting their lives to finding out when life as we know it exactly began, that singular occurrence, and how it happened, they are trying to solve the mystery of why we are here, how we came to be here.  How come something, rather than nothing?

This is no dichotomy of science and religion, but a thinking, open-hearted spirituality. Both are true.  “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

 

 

MORE PETER PAN PLEASE

In this summer of Batman and Spiderman, of taking down the bad guys while sporting a costume with coordinating tights; I’m putting in my two cents for Peter Pan.

No, it’s not his leafy green tunic and tights, his Robin Hood cap, or devil-may care attitude. If this were a fashion contest, Peter definitely would have been ‘voted off the island’.

He’s not even a super hero. 

But he can fly.  And the ability lies not in his costume or a molecular mutation in his DNA, but in the power of his imagination.  Peter Pan can fly because he believes he can.  And this power is not limited to him.  Beyond the magic of Neverland, in a REAL children’s nursery in London, he demonstrates to Wendy, John, and Michael Darling how they can fly. He teaches them to think “lovely, wonderful thoughts.”

This notion lies deeper than sheer willpower and the strength of positive thinking. What children so often have in abundance is unfettered faith combined with unencumbered creative impulses. They can hitch their wagon to a star, make castles out of sand, and a feast of bread and butter.

Peter Pan symbolizes this childlike wonder, its power and draw. Peter embodies, literally embodies, eternal youth. 

  

And it is not a world without peril.  Dangers lurk in many corners and take many forms. Peter and the Lost Boys are able to stave off many a doom by using their wits and imagination.  Evil is personified in the ever pursuing angry and vengeful Captain Hook. His long metal claw for an arm and his booming commands to “walk the plank” left me petrified as a kid.

 I can remember a recurring nightmare from which upon waking, I was certain that I still saw Captain Hook leering at me from the hallway in his full pirate regalia. It was even more frightening as I couldn’t get up and get past him to awaken my parents in their room to alert them, in case I were to be taken away, never to be seen or heard from again.    

Luckily, I grew out of that dream.

Of course, with the wisdom of years, we all come to know (hopefully), the limitations of never growing up. But Peter Pan reminds us to not give up our child’s eye in the process.  Children keep wide their vision of what’s possible, adventure can be found in a backyard and dreams can be solid fodder.  The darkness doesn’t overwhelm forever.  Peter Pan, unlike our favorite super heroes, it not a savior.  He is not rescuing us from the dark night.  He rather provides a way of seeing, a way to pierce through and around the darkness.           

Quote for the day: “I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17

AN ELYSIAN LIFE

There are moments in mid summer, with senses fully engaged, with nature profligate, that my heart lifts to heaven, being right here and right now.    

Having just trod the trails around Walden Pond with my eldest daughter, I felt a kindred spirit with that guest of Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau, who said, “The summer, in some climates, makes possible to man some sort of Elysian Life.”

Elysium or the Elysian Fields was a glorious playing ground in the afterlife.  This special heaven, envisioned by the ancient Greeks, evolved through oral legend and was  mapped out specifically in poems and stories from Pindar to  Homer’s Odyssey

Pindar described it as a place with many shaded parks, where people could enjoy their favorite musical and athletic activities, without striving.  An Endless Summer.

Known to Homer, Elysium was located on the Islands of the Blessed, located at the far west of the end of the earth, those related to the gods or chosen by them, the heroic, and the righteous would live a happy and carefree life surrounded by nature, enjoying many of the things they enjoyed in their past life. No storms, bitter cold, or heavy toil.

Thoreau in Walden, pleads his case for simplicity and less striving for enjoying a bit of Elysium right where you are.  It is no coincidence that in the same passage he speaks of an Elysian life, he also points to the observation that  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them”.  

There are many who have said that he was an eccentric elitist, with a bachelor’s ability to philosophize and experiment.  But that would not be the whole story.  He knows that some that are reading his arguments are factory workers and those barely scraping by, and to these, he offers words of encouragement.

Rather his wrath, as it were, was saved for the middle and upper classes of Boston and Concord societies, who continue to need more and more luxuries and extravagances and in order to get them , have less and less time to enjoy the birds on the water in the early morning or the loveliness of the woods.  Essentially, he was the town prophet living on the outside of town, declaring the delusion of need. 

If possible, for perhaps a half hour or so even, you could step outside and walk or sit or notice.  You can be a master of industry in the morning. 

Quote for today: “I thank you God for this amazing day, the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e.e. cummings