Posts

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

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.

FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING

Our title today is taken from the ground breaking book, Full Catastrophe Living (1992) by premier leader in the field of mind/body training and the founder of the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Clinic at UMASS Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn.     dreamstime_7048996 (1)

This book  has long since been dog-eared and worn thin by its continual use as an invaluable instruction manual for me. “His major research interests which include mind/body interactions for healing, clinical application of mindfulness meditation for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, and the societal application of mindfulness,” align with my own.

While I entered this stream of contemplative practices long ago from the opening of spirituality vs. the current tide of science and medicine; they are in some ways one and the same stream.

In living the full catastrophe, we accept the pleasurable experiences of life and the painful ones with a quiet balance towards them, not getting too wrapped up in clinging towards one or running from the other.  Understanding in a deeper sense that both of these are just passing phenomena, we can be with either.  

For instance, this morning my mind continued to play the daily theme it has done for some weeks now. With frigid temperatures continuing, along with my chronic, cold induced cough, I think,  “I need a vacation.” Perhaps you’ve had this thought recently too? Many, many others thoughts follow this, but they are all stem from this one.

100414a1266 (1)And there is nothing wrong with this thought (or any other for that matter).  Vacating your life for a bit, whether for a week, a month, or even a long weekend (especially if there are turquoise waters involved) can push the refresh button on our minds and bodies.  We log in so much information and activity every day. The amount we can or choose to delete never really a significant de-cluttering of brain space.

And here is some more thinking, “Some warm weather may help me with this winter cough…”

But what if  we can’t take a vacation or we got to take a vacation and it didn’t “take?” Whatever problems we have, whatever inner turmoil, doesn’t necessarily or even likely cease just because we have gone somewhere other than where we are.

If you have been struggling with sadness, anxiety, or anger before you left, chances are there will be moments while you are away that these emotions still arise.  The saying  “wherever you go, there you are”(a title of another book by Kabat-ZInn by the way) is an undeniable truth.

Since you ARE here right now, being here is always an option.

You can make room for moments right now that are exceptional and rich by not going anywhere. How? By engaging with the art of non-doing.  By being present to comfort and discomfort alike, with no particular preference.  By not judging yourself for not doing, but instead just seeing what IS here.  

As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “The flavor and joy of non-doing is difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless.  The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.  The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lies in knowing that something else surely will.”

 9-winter-theme

Right now, there is sunlight peeking through the frost covered windows of my bright alcove in my office. A host of bird songs are making themselves known on the evergreens outside.  Cars are speeding past this little cottage while my dog sleeps.  I can breathe in warm steam and hot tea and smile at this fortune.  I can send out thoughts of healing for myself and everyone else who is coughing this morning. I can notice how warm my feet feel in these slippers.

All this from non-doing.  What is in this moment for you?