Mindfulness & Wellbeing

Moving from Separation to Connection

On a recent meditation retreat, during a walking meditation outdoors, a woman walked up behind me & passed me on the sidewalk.  I observed that she was older and I noticed I was having thoughts that sounded a little patronizing in tone about her gait and her slight limp as she walked and thinking that I don’t have an obvious limp and she probably couldn’t walk all the way down to the pond which I enjoyed so much.  She seemed different from me.  “I’m not like that.”  All this despite being 72 years old myself and having had an issue with my left foot only a few months earlier that had made it difficult for me to walk with ease.  I did feel a certain sympathy and pity, but also felt separate from her.  As I became more aware of this pattern of thinking, it was curious to me to see it as a bias, a prejudice, ”ageism”.  I wasn’t judging myself about it like I certainly would have in the past as unkind & shameful.  I was just noticing it.

There is a natural human reaction to disconnect and distance from people and situations that trigger unpleasant emotional responses in us.  Another, less obvious, natural human reaction is to distance or disconnect from our own unwanted thoughts, feelings and experiences.  A common way that we do this is by projecting our unwanted emotions or thoughts onto others.  When this happens it is very difficult for us to have any curiosity or compassion for others or ourselves.  The practice of mindfulness helps us to become more aware of these habits of mind and to bring more kindness and curiosity to what is happening and what underlies these automatic reactions. Read More

I got back a couple of weeks ago from a 10 day silent retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre Mass. My friends asked me about the retreat and about how it was coming home. I fumbled with my words. How can I explain what coming home was like?

My very first day back I decided to go to the DMV to get my license renewed. I had to do it within the month. I didn’t need to do it on the first day back. What was I thinking? I just wanted to do things that needed to be done to have more order in my life. It turned into a true test of equanimity. There was a huge long line. Stand in one line, get to the front, get paperwork approved, go stand in the next even longer line. Utter frustration. In the past I might have stormed off or said something very pointed and even insulting to the staff who didn’t seem to have a lot of urgency in their job. Instead, I was able to slow down and contemplate my options. I could come back later. I could judge myself for being so stupid to do this on this particular day. I could lash out at the people serving us. I chose to simply take in that it was my choice to be there and to weather the experience with as much equanimity as I could muster. Read More

The Gift of Curiosity: From Separation to Connection

We often teach in our mindfulness classes that mindfulness supports the curious investigation of what’s arising in our awareness so we can see it more clearly and not just react to it habitually. What was big for me this year on retreat was the deeper understanding and clarity around what ‘investigation’ means and how important curiosity is in the practice of mindfulness.

For instance, during this week-long silent retreat, I was walking on a path under some apple trees. Suddenly something dropped down in front of me. My initial reaction was: ”Eww!”. What’s that?!! I realized it was a caterpillar, a strange looking caterpillar. My judging mind kicked in. I saw holes in some of the leaves and thought, “It’s damaging the tree!”

Then I began to look more closely with curiosity. “Wow…look at that!!!” It was maybe ¾ inch long, a gazillion legs, very fine green fur covered its body and 2 long antennae extended upward from his head way beyond its fur and the mouth had 2 amazing prehensile extensions moving back and forth. It was hanging by a thin thread. “Perhaps the wind had knocked him off a branch?”  I stood there, amazed by this very small piece of nature & the thin thread that had caught him.  I was moved by the awesome complexity of the life in this ¾ inch long caterpillar! Read More

If in rush hour traffic you can remain perfectly calm. If you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy. If you can love everyone around you unconditionally.  And if you can always find contentment just where you are, then you’re probably….a dog.                     —Shauna Shapiro

Most of us tend to set up unrealistic goals and judge ourselves harshly when we don’t meet them. Even when we do accomplish a goal, the joy is often short lived. Got that college diploma, well what about a job? Then a promotion? Then… on and on. Life becomes an endless stream of “not quite good enough”, a never ending struggle.

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Just Seeing What’s Going On

Everywhere we look Spring is announcing her arrival…bright yellow forsythia sprays; fruit trees brimming with white & pink blossoms; brilliant yellow daffodils bursting on hillsides; and perennials emerging from their winter sleep with the promise of Summer flowers to come.  Alongside this outpouring of life lies the debris of leaves, sticks and branches from the Fall and Winter.  All of these seasons coming and going, co-existing in the present moment.

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Making a Meditation Practice into a Habit

dreamstime-48267628Getting into the routine of meditating every day has sometimes been a challenge for me, even now when I’m retired and have lots of time. When I worked, I meditated in the evening. Now that I’m retired, I decided meditating in the morning is the way to go.

I set a goal, sharpened my intentions, focused on the positive rewards that I experience from meditation, and still didn’t consistently follow through.

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Recently I came across these photos taken by Roeselien Raimond, a Dutch nature photographer, showing foxes enjoying themselves in the wild.

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It appears that foxes don’t need mindfulness courses to learn about being in the moment, even in the face of adversity.

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After seeing these pictures, I became curious about Roeselien, the person behind the camera. How did she ever get the pictures? I learned that she didn’t use remote controlled cameras or any other fancy technology. Instead it was a process that required mindful presence and nonstriving. She comments:

“ the harder you try, the more you’ll move away from your goal. If you are too eager, an animal will sense that eagerness and will remain alert. I learned to do as foxes do, just being there and see what might happen. And in the mean time, I just enjoy smelling some fresh air and feeling the sun on my skin.”

What a metaphor for my meditation practice. However, what meaning could it possibly have in the midst of a busy, goal-oriented life?

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Of course we need to have goals and to work toward achieving our goals. Foxes need to eat. Roeselien wanted to get exhilarating pictures. She’s a professional. Her livelihood depends on it. We want the health benefits of a meditation practice and try hard to achieve those results.

Yet I’ve learned over time that one of the most profound ways to achieve my goals is nonstriving. For me this means just being there in the moment, being present, even with unpleasant things, and letting the action develop organically out of wisdom and appropriateness to the situation.

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The results are often very different from anything I might have planned and beyond any expectation I could possibly have had of what would happen.

Meditation is a very direct way to practice nonstriving. When you sit down to meditate, you don’t get to control anything or to dictate the outcome. You quickly discover it’s impossible to control thoughts, for instance. What emerges is an ability to see thoughts more clearly and in the process not get carried away by the thoughts. In this way, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful for conditions like anxiety and depression.

I meditate because, over time, I’ve become more centered and grounded, and more compassionate with myself and with others. I’m able to get over periods of depression and anxiety easier and quicker. I feel more connected to the mystery and wonder of life. All of this happens without striving for particular results.

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It’s about just being there and seeing what might happen. Just being there, for this particular meditation period, or for my life. As I discover over and over, what happens often is totally amazing and totally unexpected.

Venturing Out

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Winter (Jean Meier)

Many days of snow and ice,
cold and wind.
I rarely venture out,
until yesterday.
End of winter.
Slowly
warmth returns.
Still ice on the pond.

Breath of Life (Danna Faulds)

I breathe in All That Is-
Awareness expanding to take everything in,
as if my heart beats
the world into being.
From the unnamed vastness beneath the mind,
I breathe my way to wholeness and healing.
Inhalation. Exhalation.
Each Breath a “yes,”
and a letting go, a journey, and a coming home.

Befriending Self-Doubt

Alone

An “off trail” hike over gargantuan red boulders
dropped in the desert as if by some God.
Filled with trepidation at the suggestion to stray…
yet, afraid to say, “no”.
Scrambling over, under & around smooth edged rocks,
rough & warm in the sun…
trying to keep up…fears of being left behind…
hardly able to take in the surrounding, abundant beauty.
Common street sneakers, like their wearer, not up to the task.
Panic rising, a fist tightening in the gut,
a knot in the throat, dry mouth… dread deepening as dusk approaches,
shadows looming across the boulders.
They seem to delight like young children frolicking…
astounding…and oh, the deep yearning to feel that too.
Alone, terrors haunt.
The fear and the shame of it…keep me silent…
isolated as a desert butte.
And then, around another rock…a sign…the trail.
The safety of stories shared.

Recently, I was reminded of the feelings of being lost in the desert and once again experienced feelings of anxiety and inadequacy as I was moving out professionally into some ‘unfamiliar territory’.  A part of the ‘fruit’ of mindfulness practice in my life is that I am able to recognize these familiar feelings of anxiety and inadequacy and the bodily sensations that accompany them as they arise and bring a more curious and friendly attention to them.  With a gentle inquiry, “What is this?”, and turning toward my body to feel the sensations and where they are arising, I say to myself, “I see you…It’s OK…I’m here”. What arose was a quality of spaciousness within myself to embrace the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy as well as the willingness to share what I was experiencing with my colleague and friend.  The result has been an ongoing creative collaboration on our shared dream filled with joy and more resilience in the face of challenge.

When we learn to  hold the stories we tell about ourselves with more curiosity and kindness, we can begin to touch and remember the wholeness of who we already are.