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Mindfulness Plain and Simple

Driving WomanI left the big city about 20 years past and the smaller city nearly 6 years ago. Now I live in a sleepy town that affords me many luxuries, one of which is not having to lock my car. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t; I always return to it undisturbed. This was not the case in my 20’s when I repeatedly returned to my car with the car stereo gone, wires dangling where it had been only moments before, my glove box obviously riffled through and maybe my parking meter change missing. So being no stranger to car break ins, on a recent trip to a big city, I was aware of the need to be sure to lock up. My husband, knowing my current habits, even called out a reminder as I walked out the front door.

Once I found myself on the exciting and seemingly exotic streets of my urban destination I was captivated by the many sights, sounds and certainly also the who, what, when and where of my business there. The first time I got out of the car, it was only after I walked the 1/2 block to the building I was intending to visit, and into the front door of said building that realize I wasn’t sure I had locked my car. “Did I lock my car?”, I said to myself unintentionally loudly and hoped no one heard my crazy self talk utterances. I had no recollection of locking it, no memory of the comforting “beep beep” the car makes when I secure the alarm, didn’t know if I saw the little buttons sink into their holes safe and snug till my return; essentially I had no idea if my car was locked or not. Remembering my own urging and that of my husbands, to be sure of this one detail on my Big Trip, I walked back out the front door, down the 1/2 block and back to my car, which was locked. Now repeat this same scenario with only slight variances three, yes three more times at each subsequent location I visited that day. Ug, sigh, you might think this is a sign of early senility or some side effect of peri-menopause (a catch all diagnosis that some of my friends and I have been using lately), but alas it is not as glamorous as that (if you call peri-menopause glamorous). It’s just simple distraction, wandering mind, thinking of what I […]

Video Blog – Mindfulness Tools for Today

Mindfulness practice can invite us to allow our experience to be as it is, opening to, accepting it.
Mindfulness can also help us to take wise action, and to incline the mind away from unhelpful thoughts.
Find out more about these practices with this pithy teaching.

(8:21)

Home for the Holidays

 

One of my mindfulness teachers James Baraz sometimes says, “You think you’re making progress in your mindfulness practice until you go home.”  Ahhh, the blessings of family and the years of history we have with them, and the years of memory aka, neural habits, that get ignited when we are with them again.

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We all have neural habits and they are helpful in many cases.  We use them to remember how to brush our teeth, find our car keys, not to mention speak and read.  And we also have neural habits that are not so helpful like feeling as though we are again ten years old and everyone in the family is ____ (fill in your own memory).

So how can mindfulness help?  First, we have to notice that we are skating headlong down a snowy mountain into an unhelpful neural pathway or mental habit.  Then we meet it with kindness.  Getting angry at our mental habits just adds another problem to deal with.  Stay kind and light – everyone has mental habits – it’s part of being alive.  A kind approach is like making sure your hat and gloves are securely on while you’re catapulting into said habit – at least you can keep warm as you go.  When you have some sense of mental composure, or the clarity that you are no longer ten and your parents can no longer put you on restriction, (or whatever your memory was leading to), you can begin to see that the memory you are currently reliving is just that, a memory.  You do not have to “buy it.”  Or as I like to say, don’t believe everything you think.  You can watch these thoughts about your history pop up and you can remind yourself, I don’t have to believe this just because my mind thought it.  While you remind yourself that you are thinking, and that you do not have to “buy” the memory as being true now, you are changing the neural pathway.  Back on the mountain you just grabbed onto a nearby tree branch and have slowed your decent into an uncomfortable and no longer accurate version of yourself.  Now you have a way to stabilize yourself and some more say in where you go from here.  Do you keep plummeting to the ten year old you or can you redirect yourself to the now and remember you are 25, 45, 65… years old?

Mindfulness says you […]

Trying SO hard… to relax

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Years ago while preparing for a retreat I was to teach, I noticed that as I was thinking over the topics and themes for the retreat I kept gripping.  As mindfulness invites us to do, I checked into myself to see what the tension was.  I became aware that I was thinking “I have to work hard on this retreat and use all my effort to prepare.”  With a closer look I laughed at what I was saying, “I need to work really hard to plan something deeply relaxing.” It is laughable that I thought this, yet I did. Over the years I’ve guided many mindfulness students through their own relationship to effort, trying hard, etc.  The idea many of us act from is that we have to “work hard to find ease”. The underlying message is that we need to try really hard to be mindful and present, or that we need to “plug away at peace.”

Plugging away at peace is the opposite of what we need to do. It is the process of relaxing into ourselves rather then trying to force presence and peace that is actually the task (or non-task) at hand. Learning to let go of our habit of effort, force and pushing is, in my experience, much more difficult then the true destination of “being.”  Being is easy, learning how to stop trying so hard, to “be” is the difficult part.  I think in order to try less and “be” more we can all use these words from the wisdom teachers as a guide, I heard them from Lama Surya Das many years ago and they were as soothing to me then as they are today, “Trust yourself.  Let go.  You are already here right where you need to be.”

I’d love to support you in this process of relaxing into yourself. Join me for my upcoming Whidbey Island Retreat Oct 11 -13 2013 or one of my upcoming classes, more information at thismindfullife.info
New classes and offerings posted regularly-

Play it Again Sam

Remember vinyl records? The way the turn table revolves?  The sound of the needle as you place it down on the record?

Picture yourself setting the needle in the first groove, it needle winds itself along the well-worn track, singing the whole song from start to finish. It’s all so familiar; same notes, same words, same familiar beat.

This is what happens in the mind when we fall into “prerecorded” mind
states. As our mind runs through the familiar song, we fall easily into the well-worn grooves of our thought patterns, our assumptions about the situation, and our projections about what is happening. When, or if, we return to mindfulness we realize we’ve spent another hour or another day listening to our “top 10 tunes.”

We can wish that we could lift up the needle and pick another song, or better yet, take the record off. If only….  Insisting that our mind stop singing its hits, if this works at all, results in a kind of mindfulness bypass.   This denial of what is in the mind delays the healing process that needs to occur in order for the thought pattern to exit the juke box of our consciousness and truly dissolve.

The offer that mindfulness does make, is to have the opportunity to see what is also
happening.  Instead of only noticing the prerecorded mind state and getting lost in its captivating rhythms, we can learn to be aware of the song as part of the present moment.  We begin to also notice the larger landscape and our awareness can move to what we hear, what we sense in our body, and what we see. This brings us into the moment, the here and now.  Our awareness now includes the truth of our inner landscape as well as our outer landscape.  In this internal honesty we can be with the whole experience with compassion. And this begins the journey of truly healing the place in the heart where the song comes from.

If you want to learn more about how to practice mindfulness in this way and you want support in practicing it, join me this fall on Whidbey Island in gorgeous Washington State.  The retreat will nourish your mind, body and heart!
Click here to find out more: http://www.thismindfullife.info/whidbeyretreat2013/

Simply Being Guided Meditation

Feel more centered, less “Go go go”, and more like yourself in just 5 minutes. Really!

Quick – Simple – Ahhhhh…

Mama I Hate You

“Mama, I hate you,” Angry Girl

said my little girl, looking up at me with sadness and anger in her eyes. This from a girl who really  loves her mama. She’s my daughter who often says she does not want to go to school or even playdates because she would rather “be with mama.”
On the morning of her birthday party my daughter had a special breakfast at a restaurant with her grandmother – kind-hearted grandma who incidentally uses the word “hate” frequently.  It’s a generational thing, I tell myself, and yet, when grandma is visiting, “hate” always seems to make a few cameo appearances in my daughter’s speech.  But until this morning it had never been used to describe how she feels about me.
While she was out for her party day breakfast, I had been busy hiding surprises all over our yard. As grandma’s car pulled into the driveway, my husband jumped outside and called to me, “Stall them,” as he ran to our backyard to hide more surprises. I headed out front as casually as possible and kept everyone in the driveway interviewing them about their restaurant adventure. I commended myself for successfully acting nonchalant while inside I felt slightly frantic – I still needed to frost the cake, set out the snacks, and get my girls dressed.
After the hiding was complete and everyone back inside, I rushed around like a slightly off-kilter tornado. As I whirled this way and that, I was all too aware that I needed to calm myself so I could provide the most important element of the party for my little girl, a settled and present mama.  But centered mama was no where to be seen at that time.
When my daughters started protesting about getting dressed for the party, I was quick to cut them off at the pass. Firm and uncompromising mama was now in residence, kids were going to get dressed and the stern tornado—me—was off to frost the cake.  Birthday girl was not happy with the frosting.  Her displeasure was made clear as she hid from her cake inside my apron.  Mama’s tornado was desperately trying to complete its tasks without leaving any rubble in its wake.
I was losing my patience despite my efforts to play it cool and be the friendly, calm, loving mama I wanted to be right then. While I attempted to smile and “fix it” (the cake), my tension was mounting and the rock in my back that appears when I am […]

VIDEO BLOG – Guided Meditation – The Light of Awareness

Mindfulness Meditation – the light of awareness- click here

Last month I wrote about the light of kind awareness in my blog post. This month you can use this guided meditation to practice finding your own light of kind awareness.

Spend a few minutes practicing meditation with this easy to follow video. You can do this meditation anywhere!

And please, leave a comment about your meditation. I’d love to hear how it went for you. Also, if you have any requests for the next guided practice, let me know.

Mindfulness Doesn’t Care

“Mindfulness doesn’t care.”  That is what my teaching partner said to the group of teenagers who eagerly listened, hungry to learn from us. I get (and love) where she was coming from, however, the way I like to phrase it is that mindfulness has no hierarchy of experience: sadness is no better or worse than happiness, when seen through the lens of kind awareness.  Neediness is not inferior to self-sufficiency.  Bravery no better than fear.  Mindfulness doesn’t prefer one over the other or label one as good and the other as bad. Mindfulness just sees what is true.  Mindfulness is the kind awareness that allows the experience to be deeply known by us, whatever it is.  It is our passport to being more fully alive amidst everything feel.

As Sharon Salzberg said, “ Mindfulness practice is not about having a certain kind of experience it is about how we are relating to the experience we are having.”

Imagine the beam of a flashlight shining in a dark room; as it moves around the room it illuminates different things inside the room.  Mindfulness is the beam of light.  It illuminates what is in the rooms of your heart and mind.  The beam does not prefer to illuminate one thing inside the room more then another — its “job” is simply to illuminate.  Because we are conditioned to believe in this hierarchy of experience and then tend to unconsciously avoid what is on the bottom of the list we often choose not to turn on the flashlight at all, believing that if we don’t illuminate what is inside of us maybe it isn’t really there. Without the flashlight of mindfulness our unwanted feelings don’t cease to exist, they just remain unseen (for a while that is, until the day that they can’t be held at bay any longer and they come crawling out of the darkness whether we like it or not).  

But when we do illuminate what is inside these heart and mind rooms, what is “in them” transforms and we are strengthened and healed through this deceptively simple practice.  A “beam” of kind awareness free of any hierarchy of experience changes what is inside the room.  Things that once made us anxious when they “went bump in the dark” become allowable and understood.  Feelings like loneliness, anger, or jealously change from unwanted demons lurking in the shadows into experiences of being human that we come to understand and even have compassion for.  They are no longer something to be avoided […]

Middle Way Parenting

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A colleague of mine, who has been practicing and teaching meditation for a long time, said to me, “Before I had kids I never knew how angry I could feel.”  Ahh, sigh. Our kids bring out the best and the worst in us at times.  And yet isn’t it sooo taboo to feel angry, especially at our beloved children?  However we all sometimes do.  I mean I do, don’t you?

From what I’m hearing “on the street” lately, it seems to me that the “conscious parenting” camp, which is a very respectable map for encouraging family connection and emotionally intelligent children, comes down too hard on the parents.  The message I’m hearing, and that it seems my friends and neighbors are internalizing, is that we are supposed to always know just what to say, just how to resolve, how to console, lift up, teach and role model for our children. I’ve seen so many books and videos that offer really valuable information about how to raise happy healthy children but sometimes the main message that comes across is that we parents should all be trying just a little (or a lot) harder. It leaves me wondering, where are our advocates?  When does a book or video series get produced that talks about happy, emotionally intelligent parents, one that lets us make mistakes, foible and kindly lets us off the hook for getting it wrong sometimes?

Recently, at the park with a friend, while our gaggle of children played, my friend confided in me, “I blew it with my kids this morning.” “Me too,” I say. “Really?” she replies, very surprised.  And the added guilt that, “I, the Mindfulness teacher, should never mess up,” comes traipsing right into my head. I take a breath and send that thought on out. “Yes, I think everyone does sometimes. This is a hard job!” I smile and say (for both of our benefits).

“I don’t think anyone really admits it though.”  she responds.  “Well we all should.” I sigh, “We’re only making ourselves more miserable with these impossibly high standards.”

It all makes me think of the extremes and impossible standards that Siddhartha Gautama (the man who later became the buddha) discovered.  His pendulum swung between having all pleasures and comforts and having none of them.  Much to his surprise, all imaginable pleasures did not bring lasting happiness. So he went running from them, only to discover that denying all all pleasures was nota source of lasting happiness either. The extremes […]

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