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 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

CAN YOU DIG A HOLE TO CHINA?

As a kid, I can recall long summer days on the beach when my brother, sister, cousins, and sometimes just random kids would spend a better part of an afternoon helping to dig a hole to China. It was largely a group effort, the attempt being short lived if you were solo.  Invariably, however, we would be shoveling madly, with our plastic jelly bean colored diggers when we would hit water.  I suppose that’s what would happen in real life, if you tried to dig to China with big fancy high-tech equipment, your hole would eventually fill up with water.

Still the concept behind digging to China (besides keeping gainfully busy on the beach) was the idea that we could create a portal to take us to another place, a foreign world.  What would they think of us when we showed up in our bathing suits and pail and shovels?  Where there children in China at that very moment digging to Cape Cod?  What would we eat?  How far do you think we have to go; how far do you think we’ve gotten? We would discuss all sorts of thoughts like these while digging.   

It’s summer. Summer is a time for the imagination to run wild.  Good ole’ Will Shakespeare knew this only too well.  He let loose a host of fairy fantasties and sultry shenanigans in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“The cowslips tall her pensioners be/In their gold coats spots you see/Those be rubies, fairy favours/In those freckles live their savours/I must go seek some dewdrops here/And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.”  The fairy’s description of cowslips as gentlemen who wait upon the fairy queen. 

 Whether you are revisiting the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland this summer or are, like The Beach Boys dreaming of an Endless Summer;  I, for one, second that notion.  The pulse of life, the green on the trees, the warmth of the sun, the joys of being plant or animal, all revels in the present moment during this time of long days.  We’re not waiting for summer to be over.  We’re just happy it’s here.  Anything is possible, anything can happen. 

We can plant a garden, build a castle made of sand, sit on a beach all day and read a novel, bike, swim, sail, and row….or we can simply be.  The whole of it is just like one giant prayer.  Mystic and theologican Meister Eckhart once said that if in your whole life you only said one prayer, “Thank You” that would be enough.  I’ve heard this many times.  Right now I mean it, Thank you.

DAWN AND RESURRECTION ARE SYNONYMOUS

This morning, I woke up before my dog, to attend one of our local church’s annual Sunrise Easter service. I am not a member of this church, but have lived in this little hamlet of 4500 souls for 18 years. It’s an everyone knows everyone kind of place.  And yet, for one reason or another, I’d never attended before.  It’s held at the shore of our Town Pond, which is lovely and secluded and has an ancient history (if one could call New England history ancient.) As I walked the path to the pond, there were luminarias lighting the way (white paper bags weighted with sand and little tea candles in them).  The hot pink and grey-blue sunrise rose up over the water, blessing our sleepy-eyed band of celebrants.  And while I understand that many past services had a frost and a chill in the air, today’s early moments began balmy.  The crackling bonfire was more symbolic perhaps than necessary.  Although, I don’t think we can ever get enough of the symbols, the concepts, or the people that bring light to the world.   The mood was meditatively quiet. The prayers were simple, direct, and ready for immediate application.   

I saw some of my dear friends around that fire, those who know the kind of challenging year I’ve had.  I felt their good will towards me through their eyes, their smiles, and hugs.  I hope they sensed the same from me. Resurrection is the happy part, but its significance is diminished if we don’t remember what comes before it.   For most of the world’s Christians, today is Resurrection day. It means that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and returned to life everlasting… AFTER suffering a torturous, laborious, and unjust death.  Even outside of Christianity, many faiths believe in a future state after death, where there will be a resurrection, a rising again, to new life in some shape or form.  Yet resurrection’s power, its gift of joy which passeth all understanding (no matter your faith) comes from the awe, the incredulity of being brought back from our darkest places, when we are crippled or broken or blind and death seems certain.  

Ena Zizi was there. (From an excerpt from Paul Jeffrey’s article, “Out of the Rubble”, March 23rd,  The Christian Century:

After having been buried for a week in the rubble of Haiti’s January 12th earthquake, Ena Zizi was rescued by the Mexican team called the  Gophers (rescue workers, some of them survivors themselves of a horrific earthquake in Mexico city in 1985).  As they pulled her dirty and injured body out on a broken piece of plywood salvaged from the rubble and carefully passed her down over three stories of debris to the ground, the 70-year-old woman was singing.  Her singing was inarticulate, as she hadn’t had any water to drink for seven days.  Yet her joy was infectious.  The members of the Mexican rescue team who were carrying her began crying. 

Zizi, who was severely dehydrated and had suffered a broken leg and dislocated hip, yelled for help for hours, then for two days, conversed with a priest, and when he grew silent, she “talked only to God.”   Her singing was gratitude, the indominability of the human spirit, and a way for her rescuers to find her.  To the South African and Mexican rescue teams surrounding her, she was very real proof of resurrection.

Resurrection is never just personal.  It is always in relationship.  Yesterday, while I was out on my daily run, I ran into a neighbor out for a walk with her two school age children.  Her 11-year-old daughter has been struggling with leukemia since May.  I noticed her hair was growing back in a full, spiky, long crew cut fashion.  And she had dyed it in  colors of the rainbow.  I wept later to witness her resurrection, the “resumption of vigor” (one definition).  And her courage to wait on it, expectantly, faithfully.       

Song of the Day: Amazing Grace by John Newton (1725-1807) (Ex-slave trader)

Stanza from the Song of the Day: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares/I have already come/’Twas Grace that brought me safe thus far/and Grace will lead me home.”

Quote of the Day: “Dawn and resurrection are synonymous.  The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.” -Victor Hugo

Apple Pie Can Be Spiritual

Visiting the grocery store this time of year, one can’t help but notice the boxes of matzos (unleavened crackers) that line the shelves of end aisles, a reminder to Jew and non-Jew alike that Passover has arrived.  Most of us know that this “bread” made without yeast is a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites had to flee from Egypt during the Exodus. They simply did not have time to wait for the yeast to rise to bake bread for the journey. 

And then, I was thinking, about how much food is not only directly tied to our religious traditions, but our own particular family celebrations, and our culture’s collective memory. When you come to think of it, food has not only the ability to sustain us physically, but to feed our spiritual selves as well.   

My family of origin has been in the Northeast since the mid nineteenth century… a loud, slightly off kilter band of intelligent, fun loving but devout Irish Catholics whose gatherings always included “spirits” of some kind or another, and lots of hearty, but not so heart friendly FOOD!  Salad, until recently, was an exotic afterthought. 

We’re talking roast beef, oven roasted potatoes that brown a bit on the sides, buttered green beans, buttered carrots, actually sticks of butter in just about everything we ate.  Apple pie, cinnamon rolls, and profiteroles (with homemade fudge sauce) just about every Sunday.  My Granny always “did” dessert.  In fact, she was so well known for her perfection in the art of pie crustery, I actually asked for one of her pies during my epic first childbirth….little did I know that was not going to be such a great idea!

How I loved to sit with my mind and soul pleasantly lulled with that warm and fuzzy afterglow of feasting and listen to my uncles argue about football or religion or tell outrageously politically incorrect jokes. Or if my cousins insisted, I would slink my body down to the paneled basement where there was ping pong and privacy from the adults.  Sunday was not so much a day of rest for our family, but a way for the generations to be together in the profound way that only sharing a meal provides.  

Listening to the stories of my friends and their Italian aunties who brought their own Lemoncello or women who watched their Nana lay out the phyllo sheets for her Baklava, I always hear affection, wistfulness, and a sense of  connection.  Likewise, I feel that sense of togetherness in our larger community in our national celebration of Thanksgiving.  While households may differ on the menu, there is comfort and a sense of identity amidst the turkey and gravy, the stuffing and pumpkin pie. 

I would love to hear from you and a memory of a meal or a food that just makes you go “ahhh.”

You know, it may be one that gives you a sense of communion with those around you, like my Granny’s Sunday dinners.  Or, it could be that first cup of coffee that you look forward to each morning, a daily ritual signaling the start of a new day.

Book of the Day (forgot to add as I was traveling): Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

                                                                           Quote from the Book of the Day: “Teenagers like sweets best of all, and that year I discovered the secret of every experienced cook: desserts are a cheap trick.  People love them even when they’re bad.  And so I began to bake, appreciating the alchemy that can turn flour, water, chocolate, and butter into devil’s food cake and make it disappear in a flash…Boys, in particular, seemed to like it.”

Nun Tuck’s Almanac

Welcome Congregants of the Blogosphere!

You have stumbled upon a brand new blog. It is a sometimes serious, but always real attempt to return religious vocabulary back to its rightful roots. And if the roots are rotten, we’ll creatively reimagine these words so that they work for us now, in the 21st century.  You know many of the major religions as well as secular humanism tout  lofty goals, such as moving towards a harmonious interdependence of the world’s inhabitants (since forever), whilst quibbling over dogmas and dictums.  Here is where they can come and get a soft nudge or a solid knock upside the head, depending on whether they are the feather or the 2×4 variety of person, and we can get comfort or empowerment or meaning or whatever it is we’re looking for.

This almanac will include, but is not limited to:

* Providing you with brief but accurate and researched information about particular aspects of the world’s religions to fodder questions and discussion (will vary daily on how the spirit moves me.)

*Sharing my own personal musings on the sacred journey or anything related to the collective spiritual quest (this could mean outlining various meditation techniques or what it means to be in a faith community or probing the nature of serendipity…).

*Religion is a word that has been used and misused ad nauseum.  Its definition, its meaning, is very simply that which binds us together.  The religion of this blog is: compassion, an openness to others’ beliefs and ideas (or at the very least, let’s not get nasty) and exploring ways to engage in the simple daily practices of spiritual fitness.

Finally, while I am a highly trained theologian, you can try this at home.  I can wax theological with the best of them, using big academics words like hermeneutics and exegesis, and I like to, at times.  But mostly, people’s eyes glaze over.

I am committing to blogging daily while reserving the right to an occasional lapse, for excuses such as : the Sabbath (everyone needs a rest), illness that raises my temperature or upsets my digestive tract, a paying gig, or a TIC (Teenager in Crisis, one of mine).

My oath to you: I will not daunt, I will not proselytize. I take my opinions seriously until I change them, at which point, I take those opinions seriously.

What about the Name?

I am Nun Tuck, because I can’t be Friar Tuck.  I’m a girl, and while I’m not a Catholic and only play a nun on this blog, the Good Friar and I share four important things in common:

1. I too would much prefer the company of a community of outlaws enforcing a little social justice to a band of self-satisfied complacent Sunday morning hypocrites.

2. Now while stealing from the rich to give to the poor may sound to some as Anti-American sentiment (can you say “Bolshevik Plot?”) many of us are sufficiently outraged by the unadulterated avarice of the past several years/decades to think this perpetually populist idea particularly poignant (take that, Peter Piper).

3. Both of us enjoy a full glass or two from the fruit of the vine (not too picky about the vine) served with any generous volume of carbohydrates.  We continue to attempt to live simply and faithfully (lots more on future blogs regarding this) but alas, the flesh is weak.

4. While friendly and gregarious (we are in the business of saving souls after all), we are fiery by temperament.  Friar Tuck was expelled from his order due to a lack of respect for authority, and I chose to leave my childhood denomination as the chasm between the choices made by the church’s hierarchy and true care and concern for its people became too great.  If authority wants to be respected, it has to earn it.

The Almanac is simply a nod to another historic figure, Benjamin Franklin (one to whom I give Rock Star status) and his version of an 18th century blog of sorts, Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Tomorrow’s post: “Does it matter what you call yourself?”

Book Pick of the Day: Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott

Quote from the Book of the Day:  “My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night.  The wife kept dragging him in before dawn so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him, until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, ‘Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.’ And I am slowly, slowly in my work-and even more slowly in real life-learning to do this.”