Appreciating Opposite Perspectives: Loving Kindness Part Two

Paddle Board or Snow Board?

Recently I experienced some conflict with someone in my community and I was surprised. Surprised at the extent of their suffering, and surprised they had not contacted me to resolve the problem. One of the tools that helps me greatly, especially when I experience all sorts of confusing emotions, is to practice Loving Kindness meditation.

When we are able to wish someone well, in spite of having a different perspective or viewpoint, seeds of empathy are more likely to be planted and grow. Even if the conflict isn’t resolved in a way we would like, we can cultivate a quieter mind, therefore increasing the likelihood we will choose healthier responses. That’s the bottom line for any meditation practice; being in relationship with others, with self.  How are we supposed to live in community when we are are knotted up in a wad of tangled emotions? As a coach with an wholistic approach, one of the things I do best is help clients identify emotions in order that they more easily create goals, make plans, and take action. One of the definers of a healthy life is healthy relationships, along with social support and a sense of belonging and purpose. Therefore any practice we can cultivate that sows ease of mind and body is worthwhile. Check out this article about science behind Loving Kindness. Finally, an article by renowned author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. I hope you enjoy, and make sure to give yourself a big dose of loving kindness. Self-compassion is an essential element of this practice.

 

4 Ways To Build Optimism

Lake Erie, January

1. Moving the body.
When you feel “stuck”, then it’s time to embody something different. By this, I mean things like taking a walk, simply standing up, or lifting your arms overhead to stretch. We are built to move, and our bodies need to remain fluid and flexible. Consider small, very small steps to take in this direction and notice the impact on your emotions, outlook. What seems doable, enjoyable, in this moment?
2. Meditation. What if you trusted yourself to know how to do this? It takes practice, yes, and yields great benefits. Even for 5 minutes, consider sitting down and noticing your breath in and out. Or take a walk, and notice your surroundings. Centering prayer, mindfulness, or other traditions provide ways to focus attention, quiet the mind, and cultivate new choices. Ann Cushman says in Moving into Meditation, “But a mindfulness practice is not primarily about getting somewhere else. It’s about opening to where you actually are–to what’s true for your real body, your real life. It’s about entering into the realm of your senses: hearing the rain on the roof and the swish of car tires in the puddles, smelling the soured milk and lemon peel in the garbage disposal.”
3. Go outside. Even if you venture outdoors for 5 minutes to clear your head, you have opened a window of possibility. If it’s raining, why not put on a raincoat, or take an umbrella?
4. Write down your experience. Take 5 minutes and write down what you are experiencing in the moment. Allow yourself to write freely, without concern about punctuation, grammar. Write for your own eyes. Then, if you like, tear it up or keep it. Your choice! Sometimes using the written word to gain clarity is remarkable.

12 Word Meditation Practice in 6 minutes

 

Fourteen years ago I spent a week in a Boston classroom learning from the dedicated staff of the Benson Henry Institute. Peg Baim, shown here, has continued to inspire me through her foundational audio recordings of meditation practices. Her presence, wisdom, and knowledge provided me grounding and affirmation. Although we briefly met, I have gone back through the years and listened to her recordings over and over. I’ve also shared her work with many clients.

In this video, Ms. Baim demonstrates a twelve-word practice developed by the renowned Buddhist monk, scholar and author Thich Nhat Hanh. The steps are the following:

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Each pair of words is practiced with breath, for several rounds each.
  3. Begin the sequence by the following
  4. Breathe in the word “In”, breathe out the word “Out”.
  5. Breathe in the word “Deep”, breathe out the word “Slow”
  6. Breathe in the word “Calm”, breathe out the word “Ease”
  7. Breathe in the word “Smile”, breathe out the word “Release”
  8. Breathe in the word “Present”, breathe out the word “Moment”
  9. Breathe in the word “Wonderful”, breathe out the word “Moment”

Here are the word pairs again:

In, Out

Deep, Slow

Calm, Ease

Smile, Release

Present, Moment

Wonderful, Moment

Clearing Out With Movement, Breath, and Writing

Beloved Item

 

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up was one of my favorites a couple of years ago. A client and I read it together, as I coached him on clearing out and bringing more in of what he wanted in life. The loving attention that Ms. Kondo gives each article of clothing, or anything else, as she decides whether to keep it or give it away is a mindfulness exercise in itself. She asks herself “Does this bring me joy?” as she touches each object.

Christopher Keyes of  Outside Magazine also enjoyed Kondo’s writing, taking her directives and creating his own 12 ways to simplify.

One of the ways I work with coaching clients is through movement. This sequence energizes and grounds your intention of clearing and simplifying:

  1. Before beginning this exercise, listen to your body, know your body, love your body. Don’t do anything that causes pain.
  2. Stand in Mountain Pose with your feet on the ground, about hip’s width distance apart. Inhale, bring your shoulders to ears. Open mouth and exhale, release shoulders. Notice how your body feels from toe to head and back down again.
  3. Pretend you are 5 years old and start swinging your arms. Let them flop naturally in front and behind you, as you gently turn your torso and hips.
  4. As your arms are flopping in this wind mill fashion, smile! Let your heels come off the floor and be gentle with the knees. Let them follow the movement of your hips.
  5. Invite your 5 year old self to imagine you are clearing out all that no longer serves you, materially, emotionally, physically. Let your arms and hands pretend that they are physically sweeping those things off of a table or desk top. Let yourself get into it!
  6. Allow your arms to come back by your sides. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes if you like, or gaze at the floor a few feet in front of you.
  7. Notice now how your body feels. Imagine your breath moving from toes to head, head to toes.
  8. Sit down for 5 minutes. Breathe in and out.
  9. When you’re ready, write down anything that comes to mind about this movement experience. How will clearing out bring your life more in line with your purpose and values?
  10. Invite yourself to consider the first step toward less clutter, more ease. Keep it simple, now! Perhaps fun, and easy. You may want to write this step down, and commit to when you’d like to start. Who will you tell that this is your intention?

 

 

 

Kindness, Mindfulness For A Healthy Heart

cup o’ kindness

How does kindness shown to you by another change your perspective? One of the biggest gifts we can give is simply offering our presence. In The Sun My Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Even if you spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in your family, nothing you could buy them can give us as much true happiness as your gift of awareness, breathing, and smiling, and these precious gifts cost nothing.”

Here are ten simple ways to bring awareness into the day.

  • Notice the breath in belly and ribs, in and out

  • Scan your body from head to toe

  • Look up at the sky

  • Make eye contact with the person speaking to you

  • Notice your emotions with a light touch

  • Smile

  • While doing simple repetitive tasks, breathe

  • Eat a meal and invite the nourishment in all your cells

  • Take a brief walk outside or inside

  • Notice all thoughts with love

Planting Happiness

 

seeds of life

When I noticed this seed packet in the hardware store, I was reminded of Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness in which he discusses the “negativity bias” of the brain, meaning that we humans are built to remember difficult emotions and experiences as a safety mechanism, since we’ve needed that quite a bit to survive throughout time. He suggests, however, that we practice taking in the good, even in small doses, in order to balance this negativity bias. We can choose to savor the moments that are meaningful, pleasurable, or when we notice ease. We can practice in even 30 seconds, by visualizing, saying to ourselves what we are specifically most grateful for in this moment.

 

Making Friends With Props

FRIENDS WHO PROP YOU UP
Friends Who Prop You Up

How do you view yoga props? Do you see them as yoga studio objects used only by those who need them? Let’s challenge our opinions, and subsequent use of props, in the spirit of building a fuller, supported, yes, even dare I say, more robust yoga practice!

What would be different if you could move from “prop judgement” to “prop embrace”? At times, blocks, bolsters, and blankets may seem like materials that hinder rather than help your yoga class experience. Unhealthily challenging oneself by trying to force a position often trumps finding ease, stillness, and breath in the midst of a pose. Embracing props may allow the mind to rest or body to extend in a pose. Props can promote better alignment, use of body’s anatomical wisdom, and actually experience ease more fully. Let’s illustrate this concept of support and ease a bit closer.

Sukasana, or Easy Pose, provides a perfect example. It’s the familiar cross-legged position we often start or end class with, or use for seated meditation. In spite of the pose name, for many, finding comfort in the hips and knees is challenging here. So, why not sit on a block, blanket, or even bolster in order to elevate the hips? This simple method allows the calves, knees, and ankles to move naturally toward the earth through the benefit of gravity. Perhaps the greatest benefit of prop use here is for belly movement. That is, the abdomen can now relax more, therefore helping the breath to move down the torso and fully expand. Try this yourself: sit first in Easy Pose on the carpeted floor or a mat, drop the shoulders, straighten the spine, and notice the breath for 8-9 cycles of inhalation and exhalation. Now, sit on the prop of your choice. Practice the same breath exercise. What do you notice?

Like a theatre prop, a yoga prop can be seen through the lens of helping to create an experience. Even though we are not in a play production or performance in a yoga class, we are, indeed, intentionally building a compassionate atmosphere of body and mind restoration. So, the next time you come to class, invite yourself to pick up a prop you’ve never used, or ask the teacher to help you use it in a particular pose. Demonstrate your courageous self and move towards flow and discovery in a familiar pose, in a new, perhaps more open way. Namaste.

Coming to the Senses

digital roots

The human body receives constant sensory input that provides up to the second information about the world around us. This is great news! And thankfully, we are created to modulate these responses. So, how can we use this amazing instrument, the human body, and play healthier music within? Intentionally noticing the five hard-wired senses gives us opportunities to do just this.

Whether or not you believe in behavioral resolutions this time of year, bringing awareness into our lives is a powerful practice. Why? Because when we go through the motions of the day without noticing how we feel physically or emotionally, stress, body pain, and inflammation occur. Instead, when we tune in and witness what our sensations and reactions are, we can use this information to calm, center, and choose a different response. 

Use this simple exercise to practice sensory self-care. Please be patient and compassionate with yourself. Noticing the world around you, your reactions, is a process of change by itself. It takes practice, for all of us, every day, moment by moment. 

What sight, sound, touch, smell or taste reminds you of relaxation, comfort, joy… or any other positive emotion or experience that’s linked to your health?

Take a few moments to be still and visualize easy, accessible things you can do to bring pleasant awareness to the senses. Is it listening to a favorite song on the way to work? Enjoying a cup of tea with a friend? Using essential oils? Feeling the feet on the ground as you sit at your desk? Wiggling the toes? Looking up from the laptop and allowing eyes to rest? Taking time to really taste food while chewing? Taking a deep breath? Hugging someone you care about, love? (Remember, to get a hug you’ve got to give one).

Be as specific as you can and write down three things that bring you relaxation for each sense. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths. As you hold your pen, or write on your laptop, drop shoulders away from ears. You may want to write about or focus on one sense each week, or each day. Do what “makes sense” to you!

 Sight

1.

2.

3.

Sound

1.

2.

3.

Touch

1.

2.

3.

Smell

1.

2.

3.

Taste

1.

2.

3.

After you complete the exercise, even if you haven’t actually done any of these things yet, check in with yourself and notice your mood. What do you notice? How’s your body feel, compared to when you began this writing or visualization exercise?

Incorporate with any meditation practice and en-joy coming to your senses.

Awareness, from a visual seescape

woman in the scarf
surprise in a fan

After receiving acupuncture recently, I sat up on the table and took time to admire the vintage silk scarf my practitioner had lovingly placed on my knees and legs to keep me warm while I rested during treatment.

This curly-haired woman drawn within the fan image peered out from the scarf–hair not unlike mine, or my acupuncturist. After considering several messages of meaning, one of many that brought gratitude was the choice to notice the scarf on my legs! I’m endeavoring more to notice what’s present, as a part of an awareness practice, which brings centering, a brief pause, and whatever teachings become present. What fullness a simple observation of the visual field can bring. The noticing itself provides the meditation.

We often take for granted the beauty in such simplicity of our environments, and those around us. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking, particularly about the future and be swept away by agendas and plans. Every season of the year, of life brings newness, a fresh perspective. Even things and people we see every day can be noticed and appreciated…if we take a moment. Just a moment.

Mornin’ Rituals

MORNING MIST copy

 

When one wakes up, rituals can establish a rhythm to the day. Some are early morning risers, others may rise much later, as I well remember when working night shifts in the hospital a good while back. (I must admit I had a challenging time figuring out what and when to eat.) The important consideration here is consciousness of what you bring into waking up. What are you waking up to?

I’m not suggesting there’s a right or wrong way to awaken, rather, to become aware of what is present. For example, do you watch the morning news, check your social media status, or do you allow yourself a minute of noticing your feet as they carry you to the bathroom? I remember when our children were wee ones that it seemed I bounded out of bed and was somehow carried miraculously to their crib, in spite of being incredibly sleep deprived. I realize that there are times in life when a minute of conscious breathing or noticing seems like an eternity.

What do you drink in the morning? A cup of water? Tea or coffee? Smoothie? How does that refresh you, bring you into the day? What mug or cup do you drink in?

What chair do you sit in? What do you see out your window? What do you read? Who do you greet upon awakening? How do you greet them?

You probably notice flux during the year in your morning routine. In the wintertime, I get up and sit in a favorite worn chair and watch the daylight come. I tend to write more in my journal then. In the summer, I keep my eyes open and may sit on the porch and watch the birds and insects, listening to the outdoor sounds.

What’s your spiritual or prayer life? How do you incorporate that into your day?

Some of you get up really early and walk, run, or practice yoga, perhaps with a buddy or at the gym. Does this change with the seasons? When is it important for you to connect with others, and when is it time to be more solitary? When do you yearn for quiet? Some may have jobs that provide conversation all day, so the morning is a time to drink in the quiet. It’s taken me many years to give my husband ample space in the morning. He needs time to wake up and I appreciate that now—finally!

If quiet is important to you as a morning ritual and doesn’t seem to be created at home, can you gravitate to quiet within, perhaps in your car before you get out to go to work, or on the subway, or on the bus?

Since life is by nature in constant flux and we are adaptive beings, I invite you to look for moments in your day that create rituals that mean something to you. One of the first great conversations I remember having with my coach was about rituals and the rejuvenation provided. So have fun with rituals. They don’t need to be so serious or complex, rather simply of benefit for you and in turn, perhaps for those you love or care about.

Here’s a robust post from Gilbert Ross on morning rituals.