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EASING OUT OF COMPULSION, EASING IN TO CHOICE

brainThere are lots of ways in which we as human beings can get caught under the vast net of stress in our lives. We oftentimes find ourselves feeling trapped by difficult circumstances and the attending feelings and thoughts that arise from them. All of this can create a sense of being overwhelmed and life at times can appear unmanageable. We then struggle and we suffer. Often times the root cause no longer exists but our coping strategies themselves have become problematic.

For instance, we may initially have found some short term relief in the pleasure of eating, in particular rich comfort food laden with simple carbohydrates. These foods produce feel-good chemicals in our body and we get a quick surge. Unfortunately, and just as rapidly, we then get a marked drop in energy and mood. The same is true of addictions of all kinds, alcohol, cigarettes, too much TV, too much social media…the list is endless. And it can be an endless loop unless we step out of the ring.

Beginning and maintaining a mindfulness practice has shown to bring healthful and lasting relief to the stress in our lives that is simply part of daily living and relief from the compulsions and bad habits that are largely maladaptive coping strategies.

women meditatingIn an original research article published in Frontiers in Psychology (2015), short term meditation was shown to significantly enhance cerebral blood flow in areas of the brain critical for self-regulation. These are the areas of the brain that support us in good decision making and in overcoming unhealthy habits and addictions of all kinds.

Collaborating researchers from the University of Oregon, University of Texas/Austin and the Institute of Neuroinformatics at Dalian University in China discovered changes in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula in the brains of those who had been only meditating for 5 days (30 minutes a day). These parts of the brain have also been reported to be associated with positive mood.

The study showed neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) demonstrated with fMri imaging and consistent mood improvement reported by participants as well.

These findings provides hopeful news that regulating our emotions and responses doesn’t have to be an arduous, protracted process but it does take discipline. The benefits reported are only maintained by continued practice.

And there are many mindfulness practices you can engage in. It can be helpful to begin with guided meditations. It can be a little tricky starting out on your own and a guide gives instruction and support. You can find several of them here on this website for free. There is no sign up or commitment involved, except a commitment to yourself to show up and practice and trusting in that.

Wherever you are on your journey, may you have compassion for yourself. May you healthy and happy.   IMG_0050

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.

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!”

Whether 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 jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, and general badass.  Some they have tossed out of hand.  While others have become integral pieces of who they are.


be yourself

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 and others in miraculous ways to live life fully present.  There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.

However, these are the places where we can get stuck.

The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold on to identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.

Often, in my classes, when I ask people what they would like us to know about them, their first identifier may be, “I am a recovering alcoholic” or “I am a survivor of abuse.” These are hugely important facts.  It is vital to share these parts of ourselves. They demonstrate strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above.  They are living proof to yourself and others that you have been through the worst and have come out the other side.

These experiences help to shape us, AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than even the sum of all our stories.

Clinging to your personal history as it is you, is still living in the past.    121

Transforming your past into a happier today includes sharing your experiences with others, whether they be hard tales of abuse, addiction, neglect, or poverty. Both speaker and listener heal, grow, and connect deeply with one other.

Embracing your past from this perspective, you can honor and accept where you have been, utilizing it in the present where need be. But releasing the attachment to these stories.  They will not disappear. Nothing gets lost.

Just doing you is a call to the present…

In fact, this release allows us to live in the only time there is: now.

There is no need to put labels on who we are.  Living unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are: we see things with fresh eyes.

nompondo dp“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 creatures, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for enjoyment.  The authentic you arises naturally from this place.

There is a lightness and rightness about being you in this moment.

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