Friday, November 11, 2016

Post-Election Stress Relief

So many people are stressed out, frightened, and angry. Brain biology teaches us that when the primitive brain, which controls the fight-flight-freeze reaction, is activated, it draws blood from the frontal lobes, which control the ability to think and act with the gifts of intuition, reason, and logic.

With that in mind, I’m offering a list of things you can do right now to reduce stress in your life.

1. Breathe. Stress and anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which in turn increases these feelings. We need oxygen, and we need to relax the solar plexus muscles. When you feel yourself getting stressed and anxious, stop and take several long, deep breaths.

2. Drink water. This goes along with breathing. Fear and anxiety can create toxic emotions that turn into physical toxins.

3. Take flower essences. Dr. Edward Bach began his work following the horror of World War I and the influenza epidemic. As a world-wide economic depression deepened and fascism began to rise in Europe, he developed the Bach Flower Remedies, which helped countless people restore emotional balance.

They are as helpful today as they were then. I will provide a future post about this and for today will list a few that can help immediately.

Rescue Remedy is one of the world’s most popular Remedies. Combining 5 Bach Flower Remedies, it can help with shock, trauma, terror, numbness, and other emotions.

Sweet Chestnut is valuable for despair. Mustard helps with gloom. Star of Bethlehem helps with shock and trauma.

4. Tap. If you aren't familiar with EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or other forms of tapping, this is a great time to learn. EFT Down Under is one of my favorite sites for learning.

5. Be cautious about social media. I see lots of inspiring posts on Facebook, for example, but there’s a lot of negativity, too. I’m not condemning the people who post negative articles, but I’m avoiding the self-destructive urge to click on those links.

6. Reach out to friends. For many of us, this is a time to connect to others for mutual support.

7. Be active. If you belong to groups working for social justice, increase your participation.

8. Practice mindfulness. This may mean meditation, yoga, chi kung, or any discipline that returns your focus to the Now.

9. Cherish the present moment. Mindfulness also means remembering that what we create in the present becomes our future. And fear of the future poisons the present moment.

10. Don’t hate. It’s so easy to do at present. I’m reminding myself that it takes two sides to make a divided country (or world). I may vigorously disagree with people, but to deny their humanity diminishes my own.

Finally, I’m sharing links to two poems that are guiding me through the present moment.

This links to St. Francis’s poem that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

The second is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Please Call Me by my True Names.” This is a beautiful plea for compassion.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Mindfulness Meditation

Because today it is almost too hot to think (whenever I try, I feel brain cells melting), I am doing a very short post, a poem I wrote an introduction to a seminar I led on mindfulness. Re-reading it has reminded me to be mindful and to look for those aspects of the present moment that I can enjoy.

I have an appointment with life.

It is here,

It is now.

I free myself from the stale air of the past.

I smile at the imaginary darkness of the future.

Breathing in,

Breathing out,

I open my heart to the miracle of the present moment.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

6 Mindful Ways To Survive the Electoral Season

Although this post is specifically directed to U.S. readers, the suggestions can help in any potentially confrontational situation.

After the Republican and Democratic conventions, I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to the coming three months. Some very sharp divisions had emerged, and I had feelings about the candidates that differed from those of close friends.

I didn’t want to argue. I didn’t want to prove that I was right. With peace in mind, I set out to determine how I could survive August, September, and October. Here’s my list of tools.

1. My Friends are More Important Than My Opinions.

I treasure my friendships. I do not treasure my political opinions. In the end, no matter who wins the election, I will need my friends.

2. I Don’t Want My Ego to Be Running This Show.

In the final analysis, my political opinions are no more than an extension of my ego. My ego is the one who has to be right and who has to have agreement that it’s right. I want to live outside that constricting space.

3. Kindness is More Important Than Correctness.

I may disagree with people, but it’s more important to care about them.

4. It’s Helpful to Spend Less Time on Facebook.

There are many, many opinions on Facebook. I am tempted to respond to the absolutely ridiculous things that some people are saying. Such temptations should be resisted. One way to avoid temptation is to listen to a guided meditation instead of reading an idiotic post.

5. Life Goes On.

Unless it doesn’t, in which case it was really a waste of time and energy to get aggravated about political issues.

6. The Present Moment Is What Matters.

In the present moment, there are no ballots, political debates, or disagreements. There is only the spacious Now, and how I live it will determine how all following moments unfold.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time Out

This week I took a break from blogging to watch highlights of the Democratic Convention. As this isn't a political blog, I won't make any comments. Later this week, blogging will resume.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mindfulness and Pardoning

This morning I thought about St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Each line in this prayer might form the basis for meditation. This one most affected me.

“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”

I Only Meet Myself

I have been doing a method called shadow work, which involves deeply exploring those aspects of self that we learned as children to name wrong. We bury these thoughts and behaviors deep within ourselves, hidden from even our own awareness.

I, for example, was told that it was wrong to talk about myself by naming either my accomplishments or my problems. I made successful efforts to suppress such temptations.

That doesn’t mean they dissolved. The desire, though concealed, had an energetic charge that attracted lots of people who had no problem talking about themselves. I disliked them for their selfish and WRONG demands to be noticed.

Shadow work revealed that beneath my disapproval lay envy. Why did I have to bury my desire to express myself when they didn’t?

The more honestly I examined this discovery the more fully my judgment released. It took some time, but I learned to forgive those bad people for getting away with it.

Hidden Gold

In the foreword to The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford, Neale Donald Walsch speaks of learning that his “faults” were simply assets that he’d exaggerated. His bragging was overamplified confidence. His recklessness was exaggerated spontaneity and enthusiasm. He only needed to practice dialing down the volume of self-expression.

Herein lies the beauty and power of pardoning. If I can hear people going on about themselves without judgment, my act of pardoning them also pardons me for that disowned aspect of myself. I can look at it as a gift to be used wisely.

I am learning to balance talking about myself with thoughtful and caring listening to others. I may say, “I think I know how you feel because I have had this experience” and find other ways to build bridges instead of isolating ego towers.

With this and other suppressed aspects of myself, I am learning to uncover the gifts that have remained hidden for so many years.

Truly, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned—and set free.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mindfulness and the Bodhisattva

In Mahayana Buddhism (practiced in Tibet, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia), a bodhisattva is someone who intends to become awake in order to liberate others. While most of us wake up wondering, “What can I do to make myself happy?”, the bodhisattva begins each day wondering what he or she can do to make others happy.

To do so, they don’t sink into self-hood (or ego), which they recognize as a false creation of the mind. It’s a state of “me-ness” that goes against the natural condition of oneness. Trying to hold the self apart and protected causes tension and pain. When threatened, the “me” gets angry. Observing “me’s who present more successful fa├žades causes envy.

I was sure that this “me” obstacle would disqualify me for even baby bodhisattva status. Like many people working on spiritual awareness, I was always bumping into a stubborn ego. In the midst of wondering, I came across this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“A bodhisattva doesn't have to be perfect. Anyone who is aware of what is happening and who tries to wake up other people is a bodhisattva. We are all bodhisattvas, doing our best.”

That opened new possibilities. I recognized that being mindful of my habitual negative (ego-driven) thoughts ultimately means accepting them instead of trying to bury them. The way to selflessness is not around the troublesome self but through it.

Developing deeper self-esteem satisfies the need for attention of an entity I have come to see as a lonely and generally unhappy three-year-old who built an ego to clothe her naked needs.

Self-acceptance provides a better wardrobe. The warmly dressed and deeply loved child who has assumed ego form can retreat to become the inner child who supports one’s joy, creativity, and faith. With that foundation, it becomes possible to turn one’s attention to the needs of others.

When we clear out space to accept ourselves as we are, we learn to accept others as they are. That kind of acceptance teaches us kindness and generosity.

We can say, “Just like me, this person suffers, feels guilty, has made mistakes, and wants to experience love.” Every time we recognize ourselves in another, we expand our capacity for mindful compassion.

This is surely the path of a bodhisattva.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mindfulness Matters

This is not a political blog, but, in the aftermath of the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I have decided that I have to speak out here.

Several years ago, a state trooper pulled my car over because he didn’t like the way I paused before pulling onto the highway (which, by the way, was not illegal). He asked to see my driver’s license.

My bag was on the back seat of the car, and I could only reach it by getting out of the car. I opened the door. (This was a BIG mistake.)

The cop pulled a gun on me.

I am a small-sized, white senior citizen woman. If I’d been a young black man, I probably wouldn’t have survived the incident. As it was, I believed (and believe) that a cop who pulled a gun on a little old lady could go further. The wrong move on my part could have been fatal.

Doing my best to be calm and mindful (and still, very still), I said,” Officer, if you want to see my driver’s license, I have to get it out of my purse, which is in the back seat.”

The danger switch in his brain suddenly turned off. He asked me why I took so long to get onto the highway, and I explained that the habitually heavy traffic on that part of the road made it necessary. He looked at my driver’s license; he told me I could go. I drove very carefully.

“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.”

This line begins a famous poem by Pastor Martin Neimoller about the cowardly behavior of German intellectuals after Hitler’s rise to power. In the poem they take the trade unionists and the Jews. It ends:

“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The message of the poem fully applies to the present. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, in a recent dissent in Utah vs. Strieff ( a Fourth Amendment case regarding whether an otherwise illegal police stop could be justified by an outstanding arrest warrant) describes those regularly targeted by the police as “the canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”

Girls and women know they may be sexually harassed, molested, raped, or otherwise attacked for being female. In 2013 more than 1600 women were killed by men. (That's reported deaths.) The Orlando massacre represented the greatest number of LGBTQ people killed in one incident but not the first.

Neimoller and Sotomayer point out that as long as any group can be violently targeted, no one is ultimately safe. To me, this means that when you stand up for the rights of others, you stand up for your own rights.

This is true not only politically but spiritually. Many religions share the theme that to relieve suffering is a spiritual obligation. Buddhism teaches us that all of life is interconnected.

This means that even if we can’t directly experience the suffering caused by a particular injustice, we share it. When we acknowledge that sharing, we are moved to relieve the suffering. This is not white or male or heterosexual guilt, it’s the understanding that what happens to one happens to all.

What action stems from that awareness? I’m seeing that question asked more and more on social media lately. I’ve seen some answers, too. For me the only answer is a question.

That question is: “What does love ask me to do?” Everyone must find their own answers, and those answers can only be discovered through mindfulness.

For tomorrow, Monday, July 11, my answer is to attend a march and rally in Springfield, MA to protest the recent killings.

If you find an answer or answers to direct your life, please let me know by posting.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mindfulness and Independence

On this weekend that celebrates U.S. independence, I’m thinking about the foundation for true independence, a condition of much deeper freedom.

Mindfulness, I believe, is that foundation. When we allow ourselves to be mindful, to observe what goes on both within and without, we declare independence from the ego, who wants to tell us what we should notice.

The ego has a declaration of dependence in that its survival depends on noticing only what threatens or enhances its survival. It filters its observations through a thick veil of fear: that it won’t win, won't come out at top. It fears that it will land at the bottom. It fears its extinction.

Some observe that the ego acts like a child, a child who has lost its innocence, who has learned the adults it counted on for survival are also vulnerable and fearful. This child has also learned that to relax, to be in the present, to see without survival filters, is dangerous.

As a result, early attempts at reaching a state of mindfulness may, instead, bring up resistance from the ego, who doesn’t want us to see beyond it to the childhood experiences and decisions that created it.

Thich Nhat Hanh often says to smile at negative emotions. “I smile to my anger. I embrace my anger as if it were a crying baby.”

The first step in a declaration of independence from the past is to smile to our resistance. When we do this, it softens, little by little, and when we are ready to know the answers about how we became who we are, our deepest truth will speak.

The practice of mindfulness is a journey, and each step gives us a greater level of independence. This is true cause for fireworks.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Adventures in Mindfulness

My friends think I’m very adventurous because in June 2015 I moved from upstate NY to western Massachusetts. Although I had two close friends here, I basically had to get out and meet people—and I am an introvert.

Now, a year later, I’ve met many people, got involved in some major group activities, and am becoming integrated into life here. In addition, I’ve explored the area and know my way around. I did, however, avoid one adventure: going to the BIG MALL, the kind that has hundreds of stores and miles of parking lots.

This week, that opportunity, out of necessity, came to me. My Apple desktop started to make unpleasant sounds. After a phone call to Applecare yielded no results, I had to take it to the Apple Store at the big mall 20 miles away. This involved highway driving, which I’ve largely not done, to an unknown and quite possibly confusing destination.

I planned for it with mindfulness, looking up the best route, locating the Apple Store on the map of the mall, and telling myself that thousands of people have found this mall. I have read no reports of someone becoming lost forever there. Secretly, though, I thought I might be the first.

Before I left, I took time to meditate and center. I realized that—maybe—I could shift the energy of anxiety into that of excitement. I would be doing something new. I would be expanding my boundaries. I would be having an adventure. By no means was I sure about this, but I at least managed to make some space for it amidst the worry.

I got lost on the way there, ending up at a reservoir. There, I flagged down some nice people who told me how to get to the mall, a mere half-mile away. Huge as I had imagined it to be, the mall had three levels of both stores and parking.

To my surprise and relief, shopping carts abounded in the lot. This made the job of hauling the desktop to the Apple Store a lot easier. I was about to take a cart when a young woman walked by and offered to lift the computer into it. I so appreciated this kind act. (When you become a senior citizen, you learn how nice people can be.)

The guy at the Genius Bar was knowledgeable and explained everything he was doing. Though I was sad to have to leave the computer there for diagnostic work and repair of a failed hard drive, I felt it was in good hands.

When I got home, I saw one of the repair people from the complex where I live. He said that if I ever needed help carrying anything heavy, I should call him. He’d be glad to help.

Instead of a disaster, I had an adventure. I learned that I could find and negotiate the big mall and met friendly and helpful people.

Most importantly, I expanded both my geographical and mental boundaries. Am I ready for more adventures? Well, next month I’m invited to two picnics in unknown areas, and at one of them I don’t expect to know too many people. I’ll be there.

Adventures in Mindfulness

My friends think I’m very adventurous because in June 2015 I moved from upstate NY to western Massachusetts. Although I had two close friends here, I basically had to get out and meet people—and I am an introvert.

Now, a year later, I’ve met many people, got involved in some major group activities, and am becoming integrated into life here. In addition, I’ve explored the area and know my way around. I did, however, avoid one adventure: going to the BIG MALL, the kind that has hundreds of stores and miles of parking lots.

This week, that opportunity, out of necessity, came to me. My Apple desktop started to make unpleasant sounds. After a phone call to Applecare yielded no results, I had to take it to the Apple Store at the big mall 20 miles away. This involved highway driving, which I’ve largely not done, to an unknown and quite possibly confusing destination.

I planned for it with mindfulness, looking up the best route, locating the Apple Store on the map of the mall, and telling myself that thousands of people have found this mall. I have read no reports of someone becoming lost forever there. Secretly, though, I thought I might be the first.

Before I left, I took time to meditate and center. I realized that—maybe—I could shift the energy of anxiety into that of excitement. I would be doing something new. I would be expanding my boundaries. I would be having an adventure. By no means was I sure about this, but I at least managed to make some space for it amidst the worry.

I got lost on the way there, ending up at a reservoir. There, I flagged down some nice people who told me how to get to the mall, a mere half-mile away. Huge as I had imagined it to be, the mall had three levels of both stores and parking.

To my surprise and relief, shopping carts abounded in the lot. This made the job of hauling the desktop to the Apple Store a lot easier. I was about to take a cart when a young woman walked by and offered to lift the computer into it. I so appreciated this kind act. (When you become a senior citizen, you learn how nice people can be.)

The guy at the Genius Bar was knowledgeable and explained everything he was doing. Though I was sad to have to leave the computer there for diagnostic work and repair of a failed hard drive, I felt it was in good hands.

When I got home, I saw one of the repair people from the complex where I live. He said that if I ever needed help carrying anything heavy, I should call him. He’d be glad to help.

Instead of a disaster, I had an adventure. I learned that I could find and negotiate the big mall and met friendly and helpful people.

Most importantly, I expanded both my geographical and mental boundaries. Am I ready for more adventures? Well, next month I’m invited to two picnics in unknown areas, and at one of them I don’t expect to know too many people. I’ll be there.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Orlando, Mindfulness, and Love

Since Sunday, June 12, a day that will be remembered and memorialized for a very long time, I’ve followed links to remarks by famous people, videos of vigils, and countless other sources. Although I began in a state of despair, my intention was to find hope. Before long, I recognized a personal and collective shift to understanding and the determination that those who were murdered shall not have died in vain.

I saw signs of hope in the global LGBTQ refusal to allow the tragedy and the community to become pawns in right-wing anti-Muslim hate campaigns. I saw that community shelter and defend its Muslim members. In these acts, I saw deep mindfulness of what’s really important. And I saw leaders in the Muslim community express their solidarity with the gay community.

The Greatest of These is Love

Constantly, whether the speaker was Staceyann Chin, a black Jamaican lesbian, or Stephen Colbert, TV superstar, this message was raised: the murders were directed against a community that claims the right to love. When you are attacked for expressing that right, the only response is to love more.

Stephen Colbert said, “Love is a verb. To love is to act.”

Staceyann Chin said, “I DARE you to love.”

Love is Remembering

My first awareness of the tragedy came after I’d spent a weekend at a Quaker retreat. During that retreat, I heard this statement:

“When we’re afraid, we’ve forgotten who we are, and we’ve forgotten who God is.”

The Opposite of Love Isn’t Hatred; It’s Fear

Without this awareness, this mindfulness, we are in danger of hating the haters. Fear that the unknown is life-threatening transforms into hatred, which in turn gives rise to the urge to fight back in what is perceived as self defense.

When we realize that we harbor our own fears, we open the door to compassion. We recognize that it takes courage to expand our boundaries and become open to people who seem not like ourselves, whose ways of living seem to threaten our fragile security about how we live.

Until we can make the brave decision to no longer allow fear to dominate us, we can neither love or truly live.

Those who will not learn will go the way of the dinosaurs. Deep down inside, they know this, but fear turns their vision outward and convinces them that if they could only eradicate what threatens them, they’d feel safe. If we reach instead, for love, it will tell us that we’re already safe.

And so, much as I love the statement I heard at the retreat, I feel the need to add to it.

“When we’re afraid, we’ve forgotten who we are, and we’ve forgotten who God is. And we’ve forgotten to let the power of love direct and move us.”

We must remember—in the names of the dead and of the living.

Sources

Staceyann Chin’s speech

Stephen Colbert’s remarks

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mental Carpentry and Mindfulness

I want to nail those doors shut against the temptation to re-open them. I am learning that the most effective carpentry technique is to get to the source of why, despite all my best resolutions, I want to go back.

An example: I am currently addressing a temptation to blame others for what goes wrong (and “wrong” is my interpretation) in my life. I have made many vows. I have made conscious decisions that I no longer wanted to participate in the negative thinking lurking behind that door.

It was like a New Year’s resolution. You probably know how well these go. That virtuous conviction that feels so good when you first commit to whatever major change you’re absolutely going to make deflates like a New Year’s Eve party balloon no later than January 2.

I think that’s because the temptation has such a powerful pull. In my case, blaming people is easy. It absolves me of taking responsibility for my feelings, thoughts, and actions. As surely as someone who self-medicates with alcohol or drugs, I surrender personal responsibility.

In other words, escape lies behind that door, and sometimes escape seems irresistible.

Understanding Why

We forget that the behaviors we’ve shoved behind that door once served a purpose. We evolved them to solve a problem. In my case, I experienced some major upsets in a short period of time.

Like all (or most) people, when something goes wrong, I want to know why so that I can keep it from happening again. This is very necessary survival behavior for all species. The deer learns that a human carrying a long piece of metal represents great danger and may develop the ability to sense the threat before its life is endangered.

Humans are hampered by tangled emotions and thoughts directed by an ego with an agenda. This agenda often involves deciding who’s to blame. Survival behavior can be either to avoid this person forever or to fight back.

I was doing the latter—but only in my mind. The low-key chorus in the background sang, “He’s ruined my life, which is hopeless because of him. I want revenge.” And on and on. And I thought I was actually hurting someone other than myself.

Listening at Low Volume

I’m learning to let the chorus sing without getting caught up in its dramatic arias. That means being mindful. It’s owning a feeling without shame. In its ultimate form, it’s unconditional self-love.

And that, I believe, is where we want to be. In that state (I think; I’ll let you know when I’m there), all the doors to past emotions and behaviors can be swinging wide open, but they offer no temptation. We have experienced and accepted their existence. We have faced their darkness, and that allows in the light.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mindfulness and Harambe the Gorilla



A western lowland gorilla—not Harambe

As you most likely know, over Memorial Day weekend (2016), a four-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. The incident resulted in the killing of Harambe, a 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla—and in worldwide outrage.

Among those blamed are the parents, the zookeepers for misinterpreting the gorilla’s motives (with sharp disagreement among experts), and all the people whose screaming probably upset Harambe.

Other voices, however, make a different claim: that the ultimate crime is the existence of zoos. To me, this is the most mindful—and compassionate—point of view.

A few decades ago I went to San Diego for a New Age trade show. I had one free day, which I decided to spend at the San Diego Zoo, reputedly the best in the country. Perhaps it was, but the experience convinced me that best isn’t nearly good enough and that the captivity of wild animals is a crime. I resolved never to go to a zoo again.

The Life Imprisonment of Harambe

Many humans would be outraged if a child born in jail were kept there for his or her entire life, but this is exactly what happened to Harambe. Born in captivity, he never experienced the freedom of the wild, the life a gorilla is meant to live. Instead, he lived in a cell under the constant scrutiny of humans.

Certainly, gorillas aren’t the only victims. Imagine a cheetah, the fastest animal in the world, confined to a tiny space, or a bird designed to soar in the sky stuck in a cage. How can this be justified?

Do Zoos Educate?

People who admit to uneasiness about zoos sometimes offer this justification. You can read sharply contrasting viewpoints, but even a study of 6,000 zoo visitors by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums only showed a 5% increase in understanding the importance of biodiversity—and no corresponding intention to take action.

Many experts believe that movies, videos, and books that depict animals’ lives in the wild can do a far better job of promoting appreciation, understanding, and involvement. Far more important, the animals have their freedom, and humans are not endangered.

Conservationists have pointed out that for a fraction of the cost of keeping an animal such as a gorilla in captivity, the fight against the poaching of these animals could be made far more effective.

What Zoos DO Teach

They teach us, especially impressionable children, that the differences between “animals” and humans is so great that it’s ok to imprison the “animals” in small enclosures for the entertainment of humans. They teach us to shut off natural compassion and a sense of oneness and open the way for separation and cruelty. Their existence diminishes the human spirit.

Mindfulness, in contrast, opens us to the realization that we must extend our notion of brotherhood and sisterhood to include all species of life. It teaches us to experience and appreciate the oneness of all life, not in an academic or intellectual way but in a tangible, heart-felt sense.

Our brother, Harambe, has fallen. May his death give us the inspiration to call for the end of the prisons called zoos. In that act, may our spirits know greater freedom.

Image courtesy of M - Pics at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Mindfulness and the 12 Laws of Karma

I write a lot of words here. Since U.S. residents are currently recovering from a long holiday weekend, I'm replacing text with an on-target video. Here’s one I enjoyed about the 12 laws of karma. (For your reference, I don't know if there are 3, 6, 12, or 24 laws of karma.) For the time-pressed, this video is 1:28 minutes long. Watch it here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mindfulness and the Seth Material

Many people come to their awareness about the importance of the present moment through Buddhism. I am not one of them.

In recent years, books by Thich Nhat Hanh have helped me to use some new approaches for focusing on mindfulness, but my initial awareness of its importance came from The Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts, who channeled the nonphysical entity, Seth.

To believe that such beings existed and that their information had value was my first challenge. However, once I started the book, that doubt vanished. My overwhelming sense was that not only was this information true but that I was being reawakened to something I’d always known.

Here is the essence of Seth’s message.

“The truth is this: You form your reality now, through the intersection of soul in flesh, and the present is your point of power.”

Seth goes on to explain that only the present moment has reality. We create both our past and our future within the present.

Rewriting the Past and the Future

The idea that we can change the past can challenge us. Here’s an example. A few days ago, I was having an episode of feeling sorry for myself because I felt abandoned by someone. When I thought about my past, I remembered all the times, from early childhood on, when I had felt abandoned.

I was seeing myself as a victim. Seth views this differently, saying, “You get what you concentrate on. There is no other main rule.”

If I concentrate on abandonment, I reorganize and rewrite the past so that this condition dominates my experience of it. To say I’ve always been abandoned implies that this pattern will continue in the future. This is really an energetic directive whose essence is: “It’s familiar; keep it coming.”

The future plays out according to my instructions. This confirms my belief, and I say, “See, I was right. Everyone abandons me.” Past, present, and future become a closed loop, invisible to mindfulness and awareness.

Let’s Not Rub Out Emotions

I’m not advocating repression of or resistance to emotions. Our emotions exist to tell us where we need to focus healing in the present moment.

If I’m feeling abandoned, I want and need to be mindful of that feeling. I will say, “Yes, I accept that I feel this way in this moment.” I will go a step further by tracing this emotion to my emotions regarding past events, and I will apply energetic healing methods (mostly meridian tapping) to them.

I will also remind myself about experiences when I felt included and loved. I will bring the feeling of those experiences into the present moment and concentrate on them.

Above all, I commit to being aware of what I’m thinking and feeling in the present moment. I choose to respect the immense power of the Now, which is my power.

And it is yours.

The point of power is in the present.

If you practice mindfulness in a Buddhist tradition, you might find it useful to explore the Seth perspective. The following link will take you to an article on sethnet.org, where you will find some valuable descriptions of the Seth Material.

To read Thich Nhat Hanh’s perspective on the present moment, see Our Appointment with Life: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fight, Flight, or Mindfulness?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which someone was pressuring you to make a decision, possibly a very important one?

Example: Your spouse tells you he’s been offered a job across the country. He wants the job, and he wants you to go along with his decision.

That’s a lot of pressure, and people never make their best decisions when they’re under pressure. That state activates the primitive brain, where the basic decisions consist of fight or flight. When your future as a live being depends on whether to fight or to flee, this fast-moving part of the brain is your friend. It will tell you what to do about the noise that sounds like a large, hungry animal and whether you should flee from or fight the stranger on your path.

We often have more complex decisions to make now, but the anxiety they arouse triggers our instinct to revert to the fight-or-flight mode of decision making. This doesn’t serve us in most situations. We can make decisions in our best interests, by consciously getting into a mindful state.

Steps Towards Mindfulness

First, breathe deeply. This takes awareness because our tendency in fight-or-flight moments is to engage in shallow breathing, which deprives our brains of oxygen, which further panics us.

Inhale and exhale for as long as necessary. You can enhance this process by placing both hands lightly on your solar plexus.

After that, you may want to meditate, do yoga, or chi kung. If you practice Reiki, you can give yourself a treatment.

One of the best things I’ve done for myself in a high-pressure situation is to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). This consists of tapping on specific acupressure points while repeating statements (which will vary according to the situation). Research has shown that tapping can calm the primitive brain and restore calm and mindfulness to the mental processes. (For more information on EFT, you can go here. Once you feel more calm, consider the urgency of the decision. Do you really have to decide right away? By really, I mean 6 other people want the apartment, UPS has to pick up the package tomorrow, or your spouse has to decide about the job within 48 hours.

Consider—it may not be true, but consider it, anyway—that if a clear “Yes” or “No” aren’t coming up for you, “No” is often the best fall-back answer. This may lead to discussion, like “Why did you apply for a job 3000 miles away without asking me if I’d be willing to move?” This question could lead to an interesting conversation.

Sidestep Power Plays

Also consider that for many people, applying pressure on another is a form of exercising power over them. Recognize those who play such games, and walk off the court.

Play by your own rules. It’s your life and your decision to make.

I’d love to hear how you’ve mindfully handled a tough decision in your life. Please feel free to post below.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mindfulness and Alice in Wonderland

Children's books are often rightly attacked for perpetuating dominant cultural modes: the white families of “Dick, Jane, and Sally,” the world of happy housewives, and countless other stereotypes.

For the many books that attempt to subdue rebellious impulses, there are at least a few that broadcast, whether consciously or unconsciously, subversive messages.

Recently I reread Alice in Wonderland, a favorite of mine in my childhood (mainly because of the cat). In this rereading, I found the book to be highly subversive in a way that I like.

For those who are unfamiliar with or who have forgotten the story, Alice falls asleep one summer afternoon and dreams that she’s in a very strange place with unusual beings of both the human and animal variety. She ultimately becomes involved in a croquet match involving flamingos as mallets, hedgehogs as balls, and playing cards as hoops.

The Queen of Hearts, who changes her mind about what she wants every few minutes, takes a strong dislike for Alice and decides that she must die, shouting, “Off with her head!” In the middle of this dream, Alice comes to awareness and realizes that the Queen’s army is nothing but a pack of playing cards. She knocks them all down and wakes up.

As a kid, I didn’t get the deeper meaning of this. I knew that dreams and waking reality were different. Only with age and some small degree of wisdom have I come to realize that waking reality isn’t all that real.

In our conceptions of our lives, we may have created details as bizarre as Cheshire Cats and Mad Hatters and feel that life is shouting, “Off with her head!”

Imagine a world in which you can be tall and proud when you think about your children and small and weak when you contemplate changing your career. No drugs are required in either situation.

Imagine believing you’re not as good as someone else—or better than someone.

Imagine thinking that you exist for any other reason than to realize your full potential and making a difference in the world.

Imagine waking up to the reality that such beliefs are nothing more than a pack of playing cards.

Another subversive children’s writer, Dr. Seuss, has this to say: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Can you think of one good reason?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mindfulness and Delusions

When I was in high school, my family travelled from New Jersey to Wyoming, where we visited Yellowstone Park. While there, we had an incident with a mother bear and her cub.

In discussing it years later, we realized that none of our memories matched exactly. Two siblings said the bear chased us. One said “It was just there.” Another said it “followed” us. I remembered being chased, but I had forgotten that the bear chased or followed us all the way to our car and reared over it, giving us an excellent close-up view.

I tell this story to illustrate the deceptive nature of memory. How I remembered the bear had no major effect on my life. Memories, however, become significant when we assign a meaning to what we think is true and make decisions for the future based on our beliefs about the past.

We can use mindfulness to disrupt patterns based on false memories and interpretations. This process begins when we become aware that what we remember isn’t always true.

NO ONE KNOWS BEST

Being mindful is especially important with childhood memories.

You may have read or heard the notion that would-be parents should be required to pass a test at least as rigorous as a driving test. I agree. In many ways, we are the people our parents created. However, we have a potential choice about who we are. We exercise this choice when we question the truth of our memories.

We can discover and mindfully examine our childhood memories, especially those that don’t match what we learned was ideal family behavior. When I was growing up, the US media, especially TV shows, presented happy families. Things might go wrong, but these cheerful people made everything right again without even arguing about whose fault it was.

Where, I wondered, was my happy family?

I didn’t realize that the parent who never yelled, hit, acted stupid, who was sometimes vulnerable, and sometimes looked at you as if wishing to return to a childless state did not exist. I only knew that my parents didn’t meet televised standards.

Since then, I’ve come to a rational understanding of the cultural propaganda that encouraged me to believe that I lived in a psychotic setting (and, again, I realize that some people did), but I didn’t feel that maybe the comparison wasn’t serving me. If I felt it, I would have to forgive them and, even worse, let go of it being their fault that my life wasn’t perfect.

Because I avoided bringing mindfulness to my memories, they flourished in a fantasy land from which they governed significant aspects of how I viewed my life. As I worked on renovating Fantasy Land, it looked like a different place.

Mindful Memory Practices

  1. The more positive and especially curious you can be about this, the better results you’ll get. See yourself as a treasure hunter. Once these gems come to the surface, their reflected shine will lighten you.
  2. It can be difficult to admit that one was wrong. I ask myself, “Would I rather be right or be happy?”
  3. Don’t force it. Sometimes the search is more about noticing what shows up in your life. Maybe you get invited to the wedding of a hated relative. That could be fun.
  4. If at any point, reality is shifting too quickly, and you feel really uncomfortable, stop.
  5. Come back when you feel strong, or if you want to explore the subject but feel you need assistance, call a coach or counselor.
  6. Keep a journal. It makes good reading.
  7. Remember that it’s a project that never ends. New discoveries are always waiting to be unearthed.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mindfulness Means Looking and Listening.

It’s easy to get the idea that being in the present (which basically means being mindful) means you’re not focused on the past or the future. You’re paying attention to the here and the now. Doing, however, isn’t as easy as knowing.

The Key Word is “Focus.”

Being mindful doesn’t mean ignoring the past or future. Some attention to each has purpose.

For example, when you are planning to mail something, you might remember that you once mailed a package without insuring it or making sure that it had a tracking number. Therefore, you decide that you will be sure to take both of these steps when you mail this package. This demonstrates a simple and practical reference to both past and future.

Sometimes, though, we complicate it. In remembering the lost package, you might berate yourself, wondering why you were so stupid. You might recall all the trouble that resulted from that lost package.

You might go about trying to enjoy your day, but you find yourself unable to lose yourself in a good book or exercise because whenever you start to relax, you tell yourself, “I have to remember about the package. And what if it gets lost, anyway?” You begin to worry.

When Identity Gets Involved

This week I had a lost-package issue. I needed to send the original copy of a necessary legal document to someone else. I was vocal about my reluctance to do this, but the authorities in the situation insisted.

Then it appeared that the document got lost. My first reaction was, “Why didn’t they listen to me?” (a variant of “I told you so.”). My second was “Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me?”

I was flooded with memories from my childhood when it seemed that no one had listened to me, accompanied by pain and anger. None of it was fun, but the opportunity occurred to step back and see how these childhood incidents had given rise to beliefs that filtered my present experience and influenced the future. I believed that no one listened to me, and I got evidence for that belief.

Mindfulness Can Help Clear Out the Past

I’m not going into specific details about the method I used. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), and if you haven’t heard about it, you can read more here.

It’s not the only method that works. People can get relief through meditation, mindful breathing, and other techniques. The vital first step is to recognize that a persistent regret or worry or any negative emotion is keeping you from fully experiencing the present. Once you have that mindful awareness, you’re on your way.

By the way, so was my document. I got it yesterday.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mindfulness of Snow

Today, April 4, it's snowing and has been all day. My kitten, Roo, has been sitting all day in front of the sliding doors watching. Maybe she's tracking the fall of each snowflake. Maybe she's been lulled into a snow-induced trance.

To make it clear how much she's engaged with the falling snow, this morning, at the time when she expects treats and complains about the slightest delay in receiving them, she instead continued her snow vigil. Only later, when the snow had temporarily stopped falling, did she review her morning and remember what had been missing from it.

While she meditated, I agitated.

Snow in April, so unfair. Should I go to my chi kung class? I never miss it. It's only down the road, but the parking lot hasn't been plowed. My car is covered with snow. The roads might be unsafe. But I always go. I hate to miss it.

On and on the cycle of anxious thoughts went until it was clear that even if I suddenly changed my mind and decided to go to the class, I would be very late. Then I relaxed.

It is said that animals are creatures of habit that follow strict and unvarying patterns for the purpose of safety and protection. Yet this morning, I was the creature made anxious by a deviation from my invariable routine. Meanwhile, the animal forgot her habits and sat by the sliding doors, enraptured by the wonder of snow.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Mindfulness and Perfectionism

Someday I will be perfect. Everything will be fixed. I will have no reason to worry about my failures because I won’t have any. I won’t have to worry about anyone’s judgment. I will be perfect, and so will my life.

Probably, most people wouldn’t admit to believing the above, at least not in such blatant form, but when I ask myself if I’m happy with myself exactly as I am, I can always think of many things that need to be improved before I can say yes, which means I’m saying no.

This means that I can’t fully appreciate the present moment. Mindfulness means acceptance. More than that, it means appreciation for oneself and for one’s circumstances and surroundings—for everything that is in one’s awareness in the present moment.

This became especially clear to me when I was reading The Peaceable Kingdom, by Jan de Hartog, a novel about the founding of the Friends as a religion and its development in the U.S. At one point, Margaret Fell, who was in many ways the organizing force behind the Quaker movement, had intense doubt about her motives. Finally, she said, “God, You’ll have to accept me just as I am.”

My initial response was “Yes!” Upon reflection, I thought that it isn’t anyone outside of me who has to accept me just as I am. I’m the one who needs to unconditionally accept myself.

Where, I wondered, did that leave perfection? I explored this word from a different angle. In the past, I’d always seen it as a static, frozen condition. What if perfection, too, could reflect the present moment? What if it could be a dynamic state, as in: “I can only be who I am. I accept this reality in the here and now. I am perfect just as I am.”

I have noticed that when I’m pursuing a line of thought that’s true for me, the universe drops helpful psychic bread crumbs along the trail. I’m sure that’s why a few days later, I discovered this statement by the psychologist, Carl Rogers:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change. What I am is good enough if only I would be it openly.”

We don’t wait until we’re good enough to earn self-acceptance; when we accept ourselves, we are always good enough.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Mindful Smile
(with thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh)

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Last week, I needed to smile, and I remembered that Thich Nhat Hanh frequently writes about the importance of smiling. I’ve collected some of my favorite quotations for this blog post.

The following explains why smiling is so powerful.

“When you don’t have joy and you smile, that is a real practice. You know there are something like 300 muscles, small and big on your face. Every time we get very angry or worried, all these muscles are very tight. When people look at you with that tension on your face, they don’t see you like a flower. People are afraid of you when all the muscles on your face are tense like that. You look more like a bomb than a flower.

But if you know how to smile, in just one second, all these muscles are relaxed and your face looks like a flower again. It’s wonderful…”

I’ve learned that smiling, even (or maybe especially) when I don’t feel like it, can indeed be the source of joy—or at least of a major mood shift.

Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we are not drowned into forgetfulness.

To smile restores my attention to the present moment. When I’m unsmiling and frantic, gloomy, or angry, I’m not usually experiencing the fullness of the present moment. I may be brooding over a past insult or rejection. I may be worrying about something in the future.

Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful...How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural—you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.

To shift our focus to smiling helps us to focus on the present moment. A smile opens the door to appreciation. With a smile, we may go outside and enjoy the cloud-swept sky or the tender buds that will soon become leaves. We may pause to think of the people in our lives whom we love and value. We may smile to our sorrows and fears as we would to a small child who needs our love and comfort.

Thich Nhat Hanh offers this short meditation:

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is the only moment.

Thanks for reading this. I smile to you.

Here's something else to make you smile, "Smile," sung by Nat King Cole.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Mindful Purr

Sometimes mindfulness is simply listening to your inner knowing.

In January 2016, I adopted a black feral kitten. Roo (short for Roisin, meaning “Rose,” and pronounced “Roo-sheen”) was five months old. She’d been feral until she’d been four months old.

This made her at best a difficult kitten to socialize. Feral kittens get socialized to learn what is safe and what isn’t during the their early months. Any unfamiliar experience can activate their desire to find safety. After two months of age, feral kittens are considered much more difficult to socialize. Many rescue organizations recommend that feral kittens four months or older be trapped, spayed or neutered, and released.

I was looking for a companion for my three-year-old black cat, Pangur, and I visited the web site of the shelter where Roo was living. I wanted a different colored cat, like a tabby or gray tuxedo. I wanted an older, less adoptable cat. One day, though, I noticed that Roo had been there for a month. Something switched on inside me, and I said aloud, “That’s it. I’m adopting her.”

I looked at the clock. The shelter opened in ten minutes. I got into my car with a cat carrier and drove there. All the way there, I argued with myself. What happened to the tabby, to the older cat? This was surely a very feral kitten. Was I acting impulsively? I kept driving, even though I felt like a lunatic.

I got there and visited with the kitten, who mostly hid from me. I decided that I had to hear one purr, even if it was tiny. I needed some confirmation of my intuition. After half-an-hour, I was ready to give up when I heard it, an infinitesimal vibration in her throat. “Do it!” intuition shouted, and I was mindful enough to listen.

Now, eight weeks later, I’m so glad I did. It’s been a process. She still runs away from me when she’s in active mode (since she’s a kitten, that’s often), but at night she sleeps next to me, and when she’s drowsy, she loves to be petted. She even lets me rub her belly, which to many is the ultimate sign of trust.

The best part of the story, though, is that my three-year-old cat, Pangur (another black cat) and Roo are inseparable. They play together, groom each other, and sleep together.

And when I look at this beautiful kitten, I remember how clearly intuition spoke to me and how mindfully I listened. Every time I see her, Roo serves as a reminder that the voice inside will never fail me.

Note: If you would like to adopt a feral kitten, here are some suggestions from Alley Cat Allies.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mindfulness and Silence

If there is one thing people know about the Society of Friends, it is that in many meetings people sit in silence that is occasionally interspersed with people speaking.

After a long absence, I’ve been attending a Friends’ Meeting since July 2015. Someone told that Friends are encouraged to speak only when what they would say will improve on the silence. I contemplated this recently during a Meeting.

Whether I am sitting in Buddhist meditation, a meditation of Reiki practitioners, or Friends worship, I find the energy of the group very rich and conducive to my own meditation. It would take a lot to improve on it.

As I considered that, someone got up and delivered what I judged—and I use the word deliberately—a low-quality, long, and very boring message. Frankly, I was annoyed, and I decided to look at my annoyance. What I discovered surprised me.

I realized that I am constantly giving myself long and low-quality messages thick with repetitive anxiety, that I can remind myself that I have to do something countless times, and that my ego gives me other messages that do not improve on silence.

This gave me a powerful incentive to be mindful of what I’m thinking. That doesn’t mean that I will suppress. That’s what I have been doing. Instead, I intend to simply be aware of it, to allow it but not to feed it.

That resolution gives me contentment. I thank the boring Friend. Once I mindfully contemplated my reaction to his message, it turned out to have far greater value than I had imagined.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mindfulness and Essential Oils

Mindfulness can be a multisensory experience. We know that beautiful natural sights and peaceful music can both relax us and focus our attention to the present moment. Scent, too, can have a calming and meditative effect. Think of incense in churches and the fragrance of a rose garden or a field of lavender.

Below, I’ve chosen oils that are known to have meditative and/or mindful effects. I included among them those which can assist in emotional healing.

I recommend not burning oils. The heat will damage them. Use a diffuser or a mister. If you are going to be meditating, you can also occasionally inhale directly from the bottle. They make a fragrant addition to a calming bath. (See cautions below.)

If your heart feels wounded, you could use bergamot. If you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable, reach for chamomile.

You can find a lot of more specific information about essential oils on the internet. Consider this a starting point.

Bergamot: Opens hearts closed by grief to receive and give joy. Helps hearts already open to direct healing to others.

Cedarwood: Cuts through mental blockages to deepen our connection to spirit. Excellent for deep relaxation, meditation and psychic work.

Chamomile: Calming and soothing, with a strong effect on anger and oversensitivity. Assists in loving communication.

Cinnamon (bark): Helps us connect with our psychic powers; used with visualization to create prosperity.

Clary Sage: Helps to encourage vivid dreams and clear inner visions. Also relieves stress.

Cypress: Helps with transitions, especially when involving decision-making; gives comfort and strength in the face of loss including that of death.

Eucalyptus: Psychic cleanser of negative energies especially from arguments or fights.

Frankincense: Historically a ceremonial oil, used to deepen breathing and elevate consciousness; helps to make us aware that reality is multidimensional; also helps break unwanted ties with the past.

Juniperberry: Cleans out negative psychic energy, including one's own feelings of un-cleanliness.

Lavender: Calming, balancing; helps us integrate spirituality into everyday life. Can assist in sleep.

Lemongrass: Stimulates psychic awareness.

Marjoram: Eases loneliness and grief, unites psychic and conscious minds.

Melissa (also known as Lemon Balm): Opens the heart center; good for anxiety, emotional shock, grief; assists in past-life recall.

Myrrh: Grounds spiritual energies, aids in meditation; helps us move through emotional and spiritual blockages.

Patchouli: A grounding oil which connects us to our physical selves.

Peppermint: Mental stimulant; balances both the overblown and the underdeveloped ego.

Rose: It is a healing and balancing oil with a natural affinity with the heart. Rose has the highest frequency of any oil, and raises the frequency of cells bringing harmony and enhanced well-being to the body and balancing personal will.

Rosemary: Psychic protector; stimulant which promotes mental clarity.

Rosewood: Calms without inducing drowsiness; an excellent oil for meditation.

Sandalwood: Stills the conscious mind so a meditative state can be achieved; helps free the mind from the past.

Vetiver: With its wonderful earthy smell, this is one of the most powerfully grounding oils.

Guidelines and Cautions

Choose only therapeutic-grade oils. I use Young Living Oils. I get no financial benefit from saying this. I just think they’re the best. If expense is an issue, it’s better to have a few high-grade oils than a lot of lower-grade ones that will deliver fewer benefits.

Skin irritants that should neither be applied directly to the skin or used in the bath include bergamot, lemongrass, lemon verbena, melissa, peppermint. If you're susceptible to skin allergies, place no essential oils directly on the skin.

Do not use if you have high blood pressure: cypress, rosemary

The information herein is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified medical professional. I recommend looking up any oil you contemplate using.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Is Mindfulness Dangerous?
Part III

I’ve devoted two blog posts to writing about an article entitled, “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” published in the “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” January 23 issue of The Guardian. (In the first post, I described some of the misconceptions in the article about what mindfulness is and how it’s being applied in the UK. In the second, I explained why mindful meditation programs and retreats may not be for everyone.

In this post, I share how everyone can practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

This brings me again to the basic error of the Guardian article, which begins with the title. “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” No. Meditation retreats led by unqualified individuals may activate long-held traumas, especially if sensory deprivation is a feature. Giving someone an app and telling him it will change his life is surely dishonest. Telling someone she has to take a mindfulness course or she’ll lose her job is frankly coercive.

We can, however, practice mindfulness in very simple ways because the basic concept of mindfulness is simple. It means to focus one’s attention on the present moment, a practice that’s essentially healing.

What can make us ill is to focus on the suffering and resentments of the past. We can also become ill from stress and anxiety as we dread the future. Mindfulness provides an antidote to past and future focus.

We can start in little ways, like small steps in exercise. One way would be to choose one activity per day to practice mindfully. It could be washing the dishes; it could be walking to work.

An activity I highly recommend is mindfully petting your cat or dog, who will thank you for this. Think of the many aspects you can focus on: fur texture, purring (cats), deep sighs of contentment (dogs and sometimes cat), how the chin goes up when you scratch it, the way the animal may bury his head in your hand. You can also learn from the animal’s gift of being fully in the present.

You can also practice “on-demand” mindfulness. Say you have a problem (you think) coming up in the future. You think about this problem during the middle of the night, and anxiety erupts.

Ask yourself if you can do one blessed thing about this problem at 2 a.m. Mostly likely, you’ll realize that you can only worry, which you’re already doing. It doesn’t seem to be helping.

Instead, try this relaxation method, which is a very basic and simple mindfulness technique taught by Thich Nhat Hanh. Slowly inhale and exhale, and as you do so, follow your breath.

Say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Or you can simply say, “In, out.” Breathe as slowly and deeply as you can.

When thoughts arise, don’t try to resist them, but don’t focus on them, either. Allow them to be and return your attention to breathing.

This is only a sample of how you can practice mindfulness.

Ask yourself questions. If you’re unhappy, agitated, depressed, or bored, ask what you’re thinking about. Ask where you are: in the past, future, or present? If you’re not in the present, bring yourself there. Do one of the above procedures or an engaging physical activity.

The more you focus on the present, the easier it gets. The easier it gets, the more enjoyable it becomes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Is Mindfulness Dangerous?: Part II

Last week in "Is Mindfulness Dangerous?: Part I," I wrote about an article entitled, “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” published in the January 23 issue of The Guardian. In that post, I described some of the misconceptions in the article about what mindfulness is and how it’s being applied in the UK.

In this blog post, I write about some of the problems that can arise when one begins a mindfulness practice.

Florian Ruths, quoted in the article above, is clinical lead for mindfulness-based therapy in the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust. He says that self-taught mindfulness works for most people, provided that they don’t have disabling stress, clinical depression, or extreme anxiety. In the latter cases, a guided practice is far preferable.

He makes a valuable analogy to physical exercise. Probably about 20% of those who start off at a gym get injured because they haven’t gotten appropriate instruction.

Mind/Body Crises

When I began to teach Reiki, I was discriminating about who I would take as a student. Years of working in a metaphysical store in Manhattan and dealing with countless customers had taught me how to recognize if someone had serious emotional/mental issues. The prospect of spending money seems to bring up those issues.

Reiki can also bring such issues to the surface, as can any mind/body practice. Many people habitually push down their emotional issues. These may include unresolved traumas. Depending on how severe these are, a mind/body practice may remove the protective seals.

Anyone who knows or suspects that they have major traumas is far better off not trying to address them without professional guidance. By that, I don’t necessarily mean a psychotherapist. Trained EFT and Matrix Reimprinting practitioners, especially those who have had training in trauma practice, can responsibly assist a traumatized individual (and can benefit anyone who would like assistance in unraveling blockages).

I imagine that going to one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreats may also provide a safe and supportive setting, but I have no first-hand information on this. I’d recommend that anyone who knows they have such issues research this further.

Mindfulness Training is Powerful.

The most important point for me is that what is being done in Great Britain (and the US) is to trivialize mindfulness as if it’s some kind of useful trick like memory improvement that gives your life a quick fix. It’s the psychological equivalent of a pharmaceutical drug. However, mindfulness practice is far from a quick fix. has deep effects on the body/mind. That’s why, like yoga and chi kung, people have been practicing it for centuries or more. It works, and it works in ways you can’t always anticipate.

In terms of whether going to a training or retreat is a good idea for someone, consider the following:

  • Whether deprivation, whether of food or sleep, is involved
  • The qualifications of the trainers/leaders
  • If the individual has known traumas that remain unaddressed
  • If someone is uncomfortable with strong emotions
  • If an individual likes privacy for emotional expression
  • If one has never had therapy, whether individual or group, or any kind of psychological coaching.
  • More broadly, if one has never before explored the mind-body connection.

In any of the above cases, I recommend coaching. An additional reason for my favoring of EFT and Matrix Reimprinting (which can be combined in a coaching session) is that you can learn and practice them in between coaching sessions. Something else, though, may feel more comfortable for you. Have an introductory session. Decide if you want to go further.

In the final section of this series, I’ll write about easy, beginning mindfulness practices.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Is Mindfulness Dangerous?: Part I

The British publication, the Guardian, published on January 23 an article entitled, “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” The author, Dawn Foster, had a negative experience with a group meditation. Instead of calming her, it induced a state of anxiety that persisted for days, along with a persistent tension headache. The experience apparently led her to investigate the practice.

Although the article starts with a basic misunderstanding of mindfulness, it does highlight some key ways in which the mindfulness movement is being co-opted on corporate and governmental levels.

Mindfulness Isn’t Meditation

Foster makes a fundamental error at the beginning of the article, describing mindfulness as “the practice of sitting still and focusing on your breath and thoughts.” If you’re familiar with the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, you know that mindfulness means concentrating on the present moment. In his words, “Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.”

That means that if you’re washing dishes, put your attention on washing dishes, not on the idea that once you’ve finished this job, you can sit down and have tea and dessert. If you’re walking, concentrate on the walking, not on where you’re going. When you’re focused on the present, you’re being mindful.

Mindfulness may be part of meditation. More importantly, with focused attention on the present, that present moment is meditative.

The Commercialization of Mindfulness

Foster’s article provides a helpful guide to an important reason why mindfulness practices may not be working out in Great Britain. She quotes Will Davies, author of The Happiness Industry, as saying that corporate heads recognize that depression, stress, and anxiety lead to decreased productivity and increased sick days.

Instead of changing the workplace environment by reducing excessive workloads, improving management practices, and taking steps to increase morale, Davies says, “We’re now reaching the stage where mandatory meditation is being discussed as a route to heightened productivity, in tandem with various apps, wearable devices and forms of low-level employee surveillance.”

Thich Nhat Hanh also envisioned how the practice of mindfulness could change the atmosphere of a workplace, but he imagined meetings with calming music in the background and participants who had learned the practice of listening to each other with mindful openness. An example of how this actually done is the prayerful practice with which the Society of Friends conducts its business meetings and seeks consensus.

Instead, British businesses offer apps, surveillance, and forced participation in meditation. When a practice is stripped of its spiritual foundations, can anyone be surprised that this isn’t working out too well?

Next week, I’ll address some of the issues that can arise when one first begins to practice mindfulness.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mindfulness and Suffering

Does being mindful end suffering? Not that I’ve noticed. It can, however, change the nature of suffering.

In The Mindfulness Backlash, I wrote about the speed with which mindfulness is being marketed as a cure-all, which it is not. Mindfulness will not get you a new car, a better car, or a great relationship.

It also will not erase moments or longer time spans of suffering from your life. This sometimes seems unfair. If you can be serene, accepting each moment as it unfolds, surely, just as correct sanitation creates an environment in which germs don’t thrive, negativity should feel unwelcome in your mind.

However that thought reveals an inherent resistance. When I think it, I’m saying, “I don’t want negativity.” The statement that what we resist persists may be over-used, but that doesn’t make it less true.

It is often said that resistance is the source of all mental and physical pain. Take a moment to check out your body: neck, back, shoulders, wherever you may experience tension and pain. Think about some of the classic phrases related to physical pain and discomfort: “Pain in the neck,” “Don’t expect me to swallow that,” “I can’t stomach it.” Hear the resistance in these statements.

Imagine instead, waking up with a physical pain and surrendering to it, saying, “OK, pain, you win.” Some people ask what the pain wants to tell them, and this is an approach that can work for many varieties of suffering.

That person at work you can’t stand? (And how are your legs and feet doing?) Becoming mindful and going within may bring up a memory of someone of whom that person reminds you. Now you have an opportunity for release.

A situation that frightens you may represent the past intruding into the present moment and projecting into the future. A very common example involves people who are terrified about the idea of public speaking and who remember that when they were children, they suffered a humiliating experience in school. Suffering, when it operates in the background of consciousness, persists.

This is why the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, advises us to make good use of our suffering, to embrace it as a teacher, to understand that in suffering lies the key to its resolution and healing.

Yes, it takes courage and commitment—and mindfulness. When I can allow whatever is happening in the present moment, I may not suddenly become happy, but in the acceptance that I’m not in control of the situation, I can surrender to it and invite it to teach me. It’s not my fault; it’s not anyone’s fault; it is.

And that’s the beginning of peace.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Mindfulness Backlash?

Mindfulness is certainly in the news. I get Google Alerts on the subject, and every day, a long listing of articles comes to my inbox.

We have mindfulness coloring books, apps. We are told that mindfulness can help us lose weight, cure depression, assist us in concentration, productivity, and profit, and teach children to learn better.

The above claims are probably potentially true, but I see a danger—actually, several dangers—in what appears to be a growing mindfulness craze.

“Girlfriend left you? Try a little mindfulness.”

“Need a better job? Meditate for success.”

“Kids bothering you? Send them to mindfulness school.”

People are beginning to see mindfulness as a cure-all, just as other segments of the population see pharmaceutical drugs. Given a choice, I’d prefer that parents send their kids to mindfulness school rather than drug them up. What makes me nervous is the possibility that it will be seen as a quick fix.

Since it isn’t, people will become disappointed and check it off as one more New Age hype that didn’t deliver.

This would be unfortunate, since mindfulness does have so much to offer anyone who approaches it in a different way. Instead of thinking, “I will do this thing in order to achieve X,” we do better to say, “I choose to live my life this way because each mindful moment and act gives its own reward.” Not tomorrow, not next month when you look at your stock dividends or your kid’s report card, but NOW.

Because mindfulness is about now. When it’s practiced that way, it will never disappoint. When it’s seen as a means to an end, disappointment is inevitable.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mindfulness and Laughter

Where I live, it’s winter, and though snow came late to the party, it didn’t neglect to arise. In the Northeast, we are approaching the time traditionally known as that of cabin fever. This period is characterized by restlessness, irritability, and the desire to see something green.

It’s a time when a good laugh can make a difference. Laughter is mindful. It puts us completely in the moment. Past and future fade away as we enjoy the hilarity of the present moment.

With this in mind, I invite you to visit the following web site:

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

The URL will take you to the winning entries for the 2015 Bulwer-Lytton contest. Bulwer-Lytton was the author of the classic phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Many are so bad that they’re very good.

Since the contest is completely about shameless bad writing, I have no hesitation in stating that I won a runner-up award in 2005 in the Fantasy category. Here's my entry:

?The dragon cast his wet, rheumy eyes, heavy-lidded with misery, over his kingdom – a malodorous, rot-ridden swamp, with moss cloaking brooding, gloomy cypresses, tree trunks like decayed teeth rising from stagnant ponds, creatures with mildewed fur and scales whom the meanest roadside zoo would have rejected – and hoped the antidepressants would kick in soon."

In a very different form, this entry became the basis for Big Dragons Don't Cry, the first book of A Dragon's Guide to Destiny. You can see the link to the right for more information.

This kind of humor may not be for you, in which case, I invite you to search on YouTube for one of Jimmy Fallon’s impersonations of famous singers. Or get a Laughing Buddha and contemplate why he's laughing.

Friday, January 8, 2016

One Word for the New Year

While I’m aware that the New Year has been around long enough for even me to remember that I have to write 2016 on checks, it’s not to late to envision and mentally shape the future.

For 15+ years, I’ve been part of a writing group that meets online. For this week’s chat, the chat leader gave us the challenge of coming up with one word to describe how we plan to focus on whatever dreams and aspirations we have for 2016.

Her inspiration for this idea came from the web site below:

One Word 365

Their concept is that one word can replace a long list of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think they’re the only one with this idea, as I saw a number of other sites with the phrase “One Word” in the title, but it’s a good starting point. You can see who else has chosen your word and join their tribe. You can also get help in picking out a word.

Without further ado, my word is “Presence.” This means I intend to be present to the moment, instead of being caught up in the past or the future.

If you like this idea, and you want to post your word, please do.

Friday, January 1, 2016

For a Mindful New Year

I work part-time as a freelance editor. Recently I was editing a chapter about goal setting. While actually editing, I gave attention to my work, but later I realized that the content made me uneasy. Why? Because I don’t set goals with anything near the precision recommended in the chapter.

My inner guidance was telling me that I now needed to do this. The call to action awakened all of my resistance. Lists and discipline weren’t creative and spontaneous; they were boring. I felt like a child stuck in school on a sunny day.

The truth, though, was that lack of accomplishment was frustrating me. Since inner guidance was speaking to me, I asked it how I could reconcile the desire to accomplish goals in a systematic way with the desire for creativity and spontaneity.

The answer I got was that sometimes mindfulness means having a list and giving one’s full attention to its items, one at a time, and that in a given moment there is one thing to do. The practical analogy was that I didn’t wait for inspiration to wash the dishes, but that with a clean sink and counter area, I had lots of space to create an imaginative and delicious meal. And when I brought mindfulness to both the dishes and the cooking, I could get equal satisfaction from both tasks.

My inner guide wasn’t done with me, though. It also reminded me that for over a year, I’ve been moving from crisis to crisis. I have successfully handled all of them, but I felt as if I was constantly deflecting curveballs from the universe. I didn’t feel as if I were initiating plans of actions. I was responding to each new crisis that wreaked havoc with my plans.

The law of attraction states that whatever you focus on will grow. In retrospect, I see that I was focusing on crisis. No wonder they increased. I found crisis management easier than consciously taking command of my life and moving forward.

I’m not beating myself up for this. Humans do these things. However, now that it’s 2016, I intend to mend my ways, and this is the method I’m following.

Discover your most important dream.

List the steps needed to accomplish.

Get specific and break these steps into smaller steps.

Whenever I accomplish even the smallest step, I will pause to congratulate myself and celebrate my achievement.

To make this stronger, I’m going to state my intentions here. I have two goals in mind. I may end up choosing one over the other. That’s part of the plan.

My first goal is to make more money from my writing. I haven’t finalized my financial goal; that will be part of the process.

My second goal is to launch a career as an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) coach.

I am going to break down each of these goals into steps. I am going to assess my progress weekly. I am going to celebrate all accomplishments, no matter how small.

And I am going to report my progress here. By the way, in writing this post, I accomplished one of my small goals.

I welcome anyone who so chooses to list his or her goals as comments. You have my full support.

And Happy New Year. May it be an enlightening and mindful one for all and one in which you fulfill your most heartfelt dreams.