"You are a lovely team. Thank you for being you, Jane and Jean. I am so grateful to have found you. Humor is much appreciated and definitely one of the elixirs of life! My relationship with my husband and my daughter is better, less anger on my part. Not all the time but more of the time!" A. H.
I walk most mornings along the Delaware Canal. Along the 1 ½ mile stretch that I use, there are 3 short sections along the bank of “protected” Milkweed. Two sections were severely damaged after a storm last year. You might ask, what’s all the fuss about Milkweed? It turns out that Milkweed is key in the life cycle of Monarch Butterflies.
In the hopes of restoring the two sections with seeds for next year, I had been collecting Milkweed seed pods. Last Tuesday afternoon, as I was going out with a long list of To-Do’s feeling pressed for time, I saw the bag of seed pods and decided to stop along the way. It was a brilliant Fall early afternoon, with the sun shining on the trees that had already begun to turn bright red, orange and yellow amidst the trees whose leaves were still green. In a slight breeze, it was literally raining yellow and orange leaves on the towpath. The beauty took my breath away & I felt transfixed as the leaves fell around me.
As I took the seed pods out of the plastic bag and began to spread them along the bank…the breeze caught a number of these feathery seeds and I felt as light at the seeds floating and suspended in the moment as if held by grace itself. I felt a sense of protectiveness, like a parent of the seeds, the canal bank and life itself. My list of To-Do’s fell away and I was able to bask in this moment of joy, feeling connected with everything. I was grateful for my mindfulness practice which helped me pause & rest there.
Many years ago I used to do a lot of white water kayaking. Even though at this point my sojourns on water in a small boat are restricted to calm lakes, I often think back to the many lessons I learned from those experiences. Below are a few paragraphs I wrote at the time. (All the pictures are from my trips.)
I feel the pull of the current and the power of the water. There are rocks all around. I’m feeling out of control and terrified. For one fleeting moment I give in to flowing with it, to feeling the power and loving it in all its terror. By putting all of myself into that moment, committing totally, it becomes a moment of beauty, a moment of poetry.
But there is a price for the only way to learn enough to be able to paddle in whitewater is by making mistakes. When I lean too much or don’t lean enough, when my mind wanders or maybe just when the water gods demand it, all of a sudden I’m flipped upside down with immense, unbridled fury.
Pretty much every morning I walk to my son’s house to take my granddog, Penny, for a walk. She is my teacher and partner in walking meditation. Penny is a 7 year old Pit Bull Terrier or, for people who find the idea of a Pit Bull scary, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier which sounds a little less threatening. Her breed’s temperament, which is a great description of Penny, is: Stubborn, Friendly, Affectionate, Intelligent, Loyal, Obedient, Strong Willed, Clownish, Gentle, Courageous.
Penny is also part of my daily fitness program, we walk a 3-mile loop, pretty much regardless whether it is warm, cold, sunny, light rain or snowing. She is definitely a family dog, and although she enjoys my company, I am not one of her “people”. This is expressed clearly on our 1 ½ mile walk out as she is frequently looking back to my children’s house, walking slowly and reluctantly. She would much prefer staying snuggled on the comforter on my grandson’s bed. I remind her that we both need the exercise as we are not getting any younger. At 7 she is middle-aged and I won’t mention my years other than to say I have at least 20 years on her.
Her pace helps to slow me down as well as I coax her along encouragingly. Although we have done this walk too many times to count, what I have noticed is that each time is fresh and new to her. She uses all her senses, especially smell, to note any sensory input whether old/familiar (to my habitual view) or new. It seems everything is interesting and her curiosity is infectious as I interrupt my mind’s habitual wandering in reverie or from my ‘to do list’ and begin to also notice what is catching her attention.
When I move away from labeling the things we are passing with ‘concepts’ like tree, bird, sun…I also begin to notice the detail like how the sun is breaking into rays coming through the leaves of the Tulip tree which are beginning to turn yellow in the early Fall and how the mist is rising over the water and the lovely trill of the Red-winged blackbird’s song in the Sumac bushes near us.
Of course, in no time at all I am lost again, on auto pilot, when suddenly I am pulled up short as Penny stops in her tracks to explore some compelling smell. It’s like a bell ringing in the meditation hall and I am jolted back into the present moment just in time to miss tripping over her…realizing I have been someplace else in my mind. Once again I start noticing detail in the surrounding trees and woods along the canal towpath as we walk. Suddenly, both Penny & I are surprised by the movement of a Buck with a 6 pointed rack of antlers running across the dry canal bed & now standing motionless, majestic in the brush beneath the trees, safely out of reach.
Penny doesn’t miss much. If I’m alert and curious I see all kinds of wildlife, like the small red fox that crossed the towpath 50 yards in front of us this morning, her bushy white-tipped tail sticking out parallel to the ground as she scurried across the canal to take shelter in the trees.
By the end of our walk, I begin to feel embedded in this scene not just passing through as an observer, feeling a kinship, care & appreciation for these fellow beings. I feel so blessed to have Penny as my mentor and teacher.
It’s the beginning of a new year again. This past year has brought particular challenges, as we all know. I’m tempted to just put it all blessedly in the rear-view mirror and look ahead to a time of bright, fresh, new possibility. This year I don’t think it’s that easy. Instead, I’ve decided to take stock of the past year with openness, curiosity, and compassion and see if by looking deeply I can find, even in the midst of challenge, wisdom that might guide me towards the future.
Self-compassion has not and still does not come easily to me. Typically my knee jerk reaction to challenging situations or difficulty in relationships has been to blame myself at some level. I question what I could have done or said differently to have avoided the difficulty. My conditioned reaction is to try to find a strategy to fix the situation.
I am most grateful for the practice of mindfulness which has helped me to become more aware of how this intellectual problem solving habit is actually a movement away from my experience in the moment and by extension creates a disconnection from myself as a vulnerable human being. Staying with my experience in these challenging moments is difficult because most often I am experiencing painful emotions such as, disappointment, hurt, fear, self-doubt or shame. I am also personalizing these feelings as this is who I am, e.g. “something is wrong with me”. Thoughts arise in the moment such as, “You wouldn’t speak to me that way” or “This wouldn’t be happening…if I was smart enough, more competent, worthy of respect, good enough”.
The challenge has been to learn to recognize this pattern of thinking and feeling as human and natural rather than the truth about who I am. That actually, what I am experiencing in those moments connects me profoundly with other humans and our shared human condition. I am not alone or an aberration. Within this perspective and understanding, compassion is possible, not only for myself but also for other human beings who experience similar thoughts and feelings.Read More
I’m very happy to announce the publication of a new book by Oren Jay Sofer on mindful communication! Bringing mindfulness into real life situations is not always that easy and I find Oren’s writing to be insightful and inspirational. Thank you Oren!
Excerpt from: Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication by Oren Jay Sofer
When it comes to conversation, the force of our habits and the pressure of social settings can make it exceedingly difficult to maintain presence. Here, our internal practice serves as a basis. We use the arena of conversation itself as a training ground for presence, using techniques to anchor awareness within the midst of exchange and developing the capacity for relational awareness.Read More
“When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body. Feel the energy field of your inner body as you listen.That takes attention away from thinking and creates a still space that enables you to truly listen without the mind interfering. You are giving the other person space – space to be. It is the most precious gift you can give.” Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now“
Can you bring to mind a time when someone gave you the gift of truly listening to you? Deep into your heart? Maybe it was a moment of deep despair, or just a moment of confusion. Beneath everything, all the storms you carry around on the surface, they saw you. They knew you. They touched your humanity.
Interest in mindfulness and meditation is appearing everywhere. The concepts seem simple on one level, yet certain questions seem to keep coming up over and over. For instance, have you ever wondered: “where do I find the time to meditate?” or “how can I meditate if I can’t stop my thoughts?”. Here are some ideas to ponder that may help you find answers to these and other questions.
However, if you continue to find meditation difficult or perplexing, we recommend joining a teacher-led class. The instructor can help you find answers that fit your particular situation. Plus sharing with others in the class can give you inspiration and support.
Sometimes a meditation practice can feel stale or boring or pointless. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, a moment spontaneously arrives where you know you’re experiencing life in a more open, curious, friendly or compassionate way. Those moments are the real “fruit of the practice”.
For instance, one day last fall I went to my 7 year old grandson’s house on the spur of the moment. I found him raking leaves with a 3 foot branch with an “L” shaped end. This seemed like very slow going to me and I found myself wanting to help him do it “right”. Then suddenly I became aware that this was an opportunity to join with him and be in the moment with his agenda in a supportive role. Together we found several ways to gather the leaves and the hour passed swiftly. As he jumped in the finished pile, we celebrated together with a squeal. Ah, what a delight!
Another example was given by one or our students. While taking her dog for a walk one morning, she became aware he was looking at her anxiously as he prepared to ‘pee’. She suddenly realized how impatient and preoccupied she was, thinking about everything she needed to do back at the house. She began to feel apologetic for all those moments she ‘wasn’t there’ and the angst it generated in her dog…and in herself. Being present and enjoying those morning walks with her dog became a new mindfulness practice through which they were both nourished!
Another example is from a manager who became aware of how he habitually passed his employees in the hallway, preoccupied and in a rush…hardly noticing their presence. He suddenly realized that his demeanor might be off putting and that he was missing a chance for positive interactions. He began to make walking mindfully down the hall a part of his daily practice. Not only did his employees respond more positively, so did he!
We would love to hear some of your “fruit of the practice” moments and how they affected you in your life. Share them below in the “Comment” section. We will publish one of them in our next Newsletter. Thank you in advance for sharing!