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! Read more
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. Read more
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. Read more
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. Read more
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.
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
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.
Stopping 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.
What does REALLY URGENT mean?
Here are some of my first responses to this question:
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.
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?
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.
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.