spirit, mind, matter

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." – Ursula K. Le Guin


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Don’t Fear Fear

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t think it’s been until the last couple years of my life that I fully realized that fear seems to be at the root of all suffering.  I see it in the world with senseless acts of violence and I also see it in the smaller everyday life sort of way.  I believe that by understanding fear, what we fear, and why we fear it, we can use fear as a gateway to freedom.

I’ll share one of my many dealings with fear. In the past, I’ve been afraid of conflict. I think many of us can relate.  The mere thought of standing up to someone who has hurt, disappointed, or injured me seemed worse than than just “forgiving it” and letting it go. I mean, I feared conflict more than the average person fears public speaking (which, I absolutely love, by the way).  With that fear of conflict comes a whole host of problems, which I’ll have to save for a later post.

Getting back to this fear and my pathway out.

The first step was identifying the fear. This wasn’t hard. I already knew that I feared conflict. Hell, my body told me so by giving me a tightness in the chest, increased heart rate, and a general feeling of dread. No secret there. The body knows what we fear most and we usually feel it around the heart chakra.

After I realized what I feared, I started to meditate and allowed that fear to be there.  Then, using one of Tara Brach’s suggestions, I asked the fear, “what do you believe?”  I know, that seems odd to ask an abstract thing like fear what it believes, but, at that point, the fear wasn’t so abstract. I could feel it in my body. I had to ask it a few times before it opened and let me see.

See, most of the things we fear come from a belief we picked up somewhere in life, either from school, a parent, or a life event that triggered this reaction. Most times, that belief was never intentionally put there in us, it just happened as a result of human conditioning. Most times, when we ask fear what it believes, we hear an answer that surprises us.

My fear of conflict proceeded to tell me that it had quite a few beliefs. The main one was that if I spoke up against someone, they wouldn’t like me anymore or they would retaliate. Digging deeper showed me that it was approval I was seeking. In some torqued fear logic, if I disagreed with someone, they wouldn’t approve, and I needed other’s approval to be ok.

Once a light was shined on how much I was relying on others to tell me I was ok, good, loved, heard, everything- I realized just how much personal power I was giving away! A quote a dear friend shares with me all the time came to mind, “It’s not your business what other people think of you.” Yeah, sit with that a moment… there’s a reason she’s a dear friend.

 A deep sadness washed over me, as well as a bit of relief. The sadness came from the years of my life lost living in a world where other people were dictating my ok-ness.  The relief came when I realized that I had the power to work through this and change it.

It wasn’t instant, this recovery. It took time, patience, and a more self-compassion than I ever thought possible.  I think it still creeps in from time to time. But, I have a better way of dealing with it. First, I notice it. I see the pattern of thinking and feel the fear. Then I say, “yup, here’s that pesky fear of conflict again.” Second, I remember the fear belief. In my case, I remember that my fear of conflict believes that others must approve of me for me to be ok.  Third, I remind myself that my fear belief is not true. I do not need approval of others, especially others who cause hurt or pain! I remind my fear belief that it’s ok to be assertive and speak up. Fourth, if it’s wise, and I feel the need to speak up about something, I do it. It felt awful at first. It was like being afraid of a high-dive and being repeatedly asked to keep jumping off. But, like high dives, it gets easier and easier. With practice, I stopped reacting to that fear.  This doesn’t mean I speak up all the time. It doesn’t even mean the fear is gone. It simply means that I won’t allow that fear to rule me anymore. Living in fear is exhausting. More times than not, the fear is worse than the actual situation.

Buddhist Mindfullness Teacher, Tara Brach, has a great talk that deals with fear. You can listen here, or watch the video here.

I share this with you in hopes that you can start looking at what you fear and know that there is a way out. It’s possible.  It may be a long journey, but it’s worth it.

Let’s make 2015 a year to stop allowing fear to rule our bodies and minds.

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Seeing Clearly

I wanted to share this quote from Pema Chodron from Shambhala Publications.
I love how she reminds us that meditation isn’t about making thoughts go away, but rather about seeing clearly. That is where the true beauty lies. It leads to freedom, flexibility, wisdom, and love.

November 12, 2014

WHY MEDITATE?

Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness…[We] work with cultivating gentleness, innate precision, and the ability to let go of small-mindedness, learning how to open to our thoughts and emotions, to all the people we meet in our world, how to open our minds and hearts.

From, The Wisdom of No Escape And the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön, page 14


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Stop, Breathe, and Think App Update

***REPOST AND UPDATE***

This app is now available on the web and for Android!

Please visit the google play store or http://app.stopbreathethink.org to get it!

My best friend told me about an app she has started using for meditation. I tried it out, and I love it!  If you’re looking for a good app to enhance your meditation practice, I encourage you to check out Stop, Breath & Think.  I’ve only seen it as an Apple app, but it might be available for Andriod.  What I love about it is that it allows you to track your feelings, moods, and emotions and then gives you specific meditation practices that can work with your current experience.  I have really enjoyed weaving the new ideas into my own practice.  Even better, it’s free!

Check it out: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stop-breathe-think/id778848692?mt=8

The companion website is http://stopbreathethink.org/

Stop, Breathe & Think: A New Meditation App To Boost Compassion And Creativity | via FastCoCreate

Do you have any meditation apps that you really enjoy? Please leave a comment and share!


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Molding the Inner Life

From Everyday Health.com click here to subscribe to the daily quotes

 

“I do believe it is possible to create, even without ever writing a word or painting a picture,

by simply molding one’s inner life. And that too is a deed.”

– Etty Hillesum

About Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum, less famous than her contemporary, Anne Frank, lived a short life of great courage. She was born in 1914 in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Russian mother. She studied law, Slavic languages, and psychology. Hungry for knowledge, she cut down on food in order to buy books. She went voluntarily to the Westerbork camp to help fellow Jews interned by the Nazis. Her letters detail her experiences; her more meditative diary focuses on issues of faith. She died at Auschwitz in 1943.

 


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Lotus Meditation

Here is a repost from March. I really love this meditation and have found it particularly inspiring as of late. So, I wanted to share it again. 

One of my favorite meditations is the Lotus meditation. It seems to speak to me each time I practice it.

I found a well-written example here and I have copied it below.

Imagine that you are a lotus seed buried beneath a muddy lotus pond. There is mud all around you, and you can feel them clearly. Above you, above this muddy pool of dirt, mud and filth, are sunshine and air. You are not disheartened as you begin your journey towards the surface.

With a determined heart, you begin to wiggle in the earth. You grow roots deep, deep into the mud. Your little stem grows up slowly. Suddenly, “pop” you are out of the mud! Your stem grows higher and higher, taller and taller. You rise up slowly, fighting against the muddy water. All of a sudden, you are out of the muddy pond! You reach up towards the warm sun, shining down on you.

Your lotus bud begins to grow on top of your stem. It expands and grows larger and larger, finally bursting into full bloom. A white lotus flower. You stand beautifully above the muddy water, not dirtied by the mud from which you grow. You are white, fragrant and beautiful.

Everyone who saw you marvelled at your beauty! Your determination to grow out of the muddy pond reminds them of the Buddha and his journey towards Enlightenment. The Buddha, like a lotus, is determined to grow out of the muddy surroundings, that is the defilements and sufferings of life. He has done all that is to be done and he is showing us that we can all do it too. We may have defilements but we all have the potential of growing out of our defilements and achieving wisdom, like the Buddha.

You are a beautiful white lotus flower, and your role is to remind people to rise above their defilements and sufferings, just as you are arising above the muddy water and not dirtied by the mud from which you grow. 

 

Tara Brach has a wonderful talk about this subject. You can listen here.

Have you tried this meditation before? If not, you may want to spend a little time exploring this!

 

 


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Noticing Patterns

I have been practicing yoga for much of my life. Lately, I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga.  I enjoy practicing all types of yoga and I believe that all types have a time and a place in our lives. For days when I’m sore from 1/2 marathon training, a restorative practice is more helpful to my body. On days when I’m feeling sluggish, I prefer an invigorating and creative flow to help get the energy flowing.

We all know that like begets like (Ayruveda) so if you want something different, practicing the opposite of what you currently do can help create a new sensation in the body. That’s why a vigorous Mysore practice isn’t always wise for me after long runs. My body has been challenged with endurance, and now it needs to rest.  This is not to say that I can’t practice the same sequence, but I do need to be more aware of my body and perhaps stay a little longer than the prescribed breaths, or leave out a few vinyasas.  I know, shocking, right?  But, there are no yoga police that are going to come to my home and arrest me for skipping a vinyasa or two when my body is telling me that skipping is a wise decision.   It would not be very “yogic” of me to ignore my body, now, would it? 😉

I digress.

I share this with you because one of the biggest hurdles we can encounter in our lives is being stuck in the same conditioned patterning.  We may not notice it outright, but if we area always on the go and never take time to rest, we are creating a life that is rushed. That rushing may prevent us from living fully in the moment.  The opposite is also true. If we are typically “lazy” or unmotivated and we never try to take risks or try new things, we can get stuck living a life that isn’t as fulfilling as we could have.

Today’s Opportunity for Mindfulness: Examine your routine and see if there are patterns of activity or inactivity that are getting in the way of what your body or soul wants. If you notice you run around crazy all day long, take a step back and create a little time and space to slow down. If you notice you’re having a hard time getting moving, go for a walk or do something that challenges your body or brain.

Patterns aren’t necessarily good or bad, they are simply things we can notice. When we notice and act differently, we may surprise ourselves!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Creating Meaning


“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.”

– Henri Frédéric Amiel*

I’ve written before about the idea of Pain x Resistance = Suffering.

Our lives are full of moments of pain, resistance, and suffering. Sometimes the moments are overwhelming: a death, a loss of a job, a tragedy, or an illness.  Sometimes the moments are smaller, a general dissatisfaction with a current life situation, a difficult person who we have to interact with every day, or even something as small as traffic being bad and us being late for work.

I’m not a fan of the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”  I don’t believe that. There is no proverbial reason that horrible things happen to people.  Sometimes things happen. It’s part of the wildness of life.  That said, I believe that everything happens, period.  Everything happens, and it’s our responsibility to create meaning from it. It’s not our responsibility to find meaning.  If you say you need to find meaning, that implies that something was there to begin with it.   I say we need to create meaning. We create meaning so that the suffering is not wasted. 

How do we do that? How do we examine something that is causing us to suffer and make it meaningful?  One option is to sit with it and practice mindfulness.

In my experience, when I notice that I am suffering, I try to stop what I’m doing and separate the equation Pain x Resistance = Suffering.

My line of Questioning for Myself:

1.  What does the suffering feel like in my body? Am I close to tears? Am I feeling overwhelmed? Is it manifesting in anxiety, sadness, or fear? Do I feel a headache, tension in my shoulders, unease in my stomach, pressure in my chest, or a tightening of the throat? By becoming the watcher of my suffering, I can get a sense of any thoughts, emotions, or feelings that are present in my mind.

Once I have identified what the suffering feels like, I move to the next questions:

2.  What is the pain that happened and how am I resisting it?  From there, I can respond to the resistance with intelligence and learn how to deal with the situation. This is where the idea of “It is what it is”  takes places and instead of a resignation that “it is, what it is,” I feel a true, “this is the current truth and I can respond to this.”

Here is a small illustration that we all can relate to:

Imagine we are stuck in traffic on the interstate. It’s not moving and we can’t see the end. We start the spinning thinking that sounds like this, “I’m going to be so late, this is so annoying, people need to learn how to drive, I’m not letting that a-hole in, typical interstate BS!” At some point, we realize that we are creating our own miserable situation in our own body with our thoughts. There is a legitimate body and emotional response to that angry thinking and spinning mind.  I’m feeling stressed just thinking about it!

Once we notice that we are causing this suffering with our thoughts, we take a few breaths and feel what’s happening in our bodies. We notice that we feel angry, over-heated, stressed, and tense. The stress hormones release and we feel our blood pressure rising.

Traffic, my ass- that’s suffering.

So, we have the feeling of suffering. Now, it’s time to create meaning from this current life situation.  We stop, slow our breathing, and find the pain and the resistance.  The pain is the fact that there is traffic. The resistance is us judging the traffic, the people, the situation. The resistance is blaming others for the traffic (forgetting that we too are part of it).  The resistance could even be blaming ourselves for not leaving earlier to avoid the situation.

Judging and blaming are two flags of resistance that often lead to suffering. When we notice that we are blaming others or judging others, we can use that as an opportunity to look in the mirror and investigate our reasons for blaming and judging. There lies the meaning.  When we can learn to see the places in our lives where we resist, we can learn how to deal with our beliefs about ourselves and others.  We can learn to challenge those beliefs and grow.

No, I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. Everything happens. It’s our responsibility to use things that happen as opportunities for growth and learning.  Otherwise, it’s all for naught.

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* From Today’s Inspiration Email from Everyday Health:

Swiss philosopher Henri Frédéric Amiel received virtually no recognition during his life but became widely acclaimed for the posthumously published Journal Intime, a literary personal journal filled with philosophical meditations. Born in Geneva on September 28, 1821, he was orphaned young and had a lonely childhood. He traveled widely as a young man but ultimately settled back in Geneva as a philosophy professor. He died of tuberculosis on May 11, 1881.


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Establishing a Meditation Practice Part I: Laying the Foundation

This week begins a week-long series about establishing a meditation practice. I decided to write about this because many of my friends have been asking for advice on how to start meditating and different techniques for meditation.

In my experience, establishing a meditation practices has six steps.

  • Laying the Foundation
  • Nurturing our Experience
  • Learning Gateways to Presence
  • Practicing the Process
  • Deepening the Journey
  • Tasting the Fruits

Today, I am going to talk about Laying the Foundation. In my opinion, there are two main roots in meditation. The first is what we intuit and the second is what science tells us.

What we Intuit:

Take a few moments to reflect using the meditation below:

Think about a time where you felt deep peace.
Imagine all of the sensations (what do you see, hear, and feel?)
Take a mental snapshot of the moment and set it as an anchor.
Stay with the moment and bring a gentle awareness to your breath.

We know this deep peace is possible in moments and most of us would like that peace to carry-over into other areas of our lives.  I always have loved the quote, “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It is to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. (unknown).”

So, we intuit that this peace is possible. Our bodies know it, our minds know it, and our heart knows it.

What Science Tells Us:

The second root in our meditation foundation is to look outside ourselves and see what science tells us about meditation. I think that honoring science and research is a wise tool to rely on when one is beginning a meditation practice. Our human conditioning is that we understand science. I also think that arming ourselves with information is useful for when meditation gets “hard” or we aren’t “feeling” it, yet. Knowing that science validates our experience can help us when our faith in the process is forming.

Here are just a few things that I’ve found.

Benefits of Meditation:

increases social connectedness (1)
improved sleep (2)
lower blood pressure (3)
lower levels of stress (4)
improved focus (5)
fights anxiety (6)
fights depression (7)
regulates emotions (8)

Studies Cited:

1. Hutcherson, Cendri A.; Seppala, Emma M.; Gross, James J.
Emotion, Vol 8(5), Oct 2008, 720-724. doi: 10.1037/a0013237

2. Division of Geriatric Medicine, Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 3615 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

3. Herbert BensonCorresponding author contact information, a, b, Bernard A. Rosnera, b, Barbara R. Marzettaa, b, Helen P. Klemchuka, b
a Thorndike Memorial and Channing Laboratories, Harvard Medical Unit, Boston City Hospital, 818 Harrison Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02118 U.S.A.
b The Departments of Medicine and Preventive Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, U.S.A.

4. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Lowers Psychological Distress In Medical Students, Steven Rosenzweig, Diane K. Reibel, Jeffrey M. Greeson, George C. Brainard & Mohammadreza Hojat
pages 88-92

5. Davina Chan and Marjorie Woollacott. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. August 2007, 13(6): 651-658. doi:10.1089/acm.2007.7022.

6. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders, Am J Psychiatry 1992;149:936-943.

7. John J. Miller, M.D.a, Ken Fletcher, Ph.D.a, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.Corresponding author contact information, b
a Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
b the Stress Reduction Clinic, Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

8. Lutz A, Brefczynski-Lewis J, Johnstone T, Davidson RJ (2008) Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897

Today’s Opportunity for Mindfulness: Think about why you started meditation, or why you want to start meditating. Honor the two roots of the foundation. Sit for a few minutes and find that peaceful place that you know exists.

yoga art watercolor print - BREATHE