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.
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.
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:
Each pair of words is practiced with breath, for several rounds each.
Begin the sequence by the following
Breathe in the word “In”, breathe out the word “Out”.
Breathe in the word “Deep”, breathe out the word “Slow”
Breathe in the word “Calm”, breathe out the word “Ease”
Breathe in the word “Smile”, breathe out the word “Release”
Breathe in the word “Present”, breathe out the word “Moment”
Breathe in the word “Wonderful”, breathe out the word “Moment”
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:
Before beginning this exercise, listen to your body, know your body, love your body. Don’t do anything that causes pain.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Notice now how your body feels. Imagine your breath moving from toes to head, head to toes.
Sit down for 5 minutes. Breathe in and out.
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?
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?
Since the spring of 2016, I’m on a team bringing Whole Health Coaching to the Veterans Health Administration. To read more about this compelling initiative click here. In short, I travel throughout the U.S. to train and mentor clinical and non clinical staff of the VHA to become health coaches. Many employees of the VHA are themselves Veterans. I love this work! About ten years ago, I wanted to get involved with a growing movement to serve Veterans, however since I was moving in a new direction professionally, I didn’t know yet how I would do that. I set the intention aside, and as my coaching experiences developed over the decade, life unfolded and I was asked to join this amazing group of dedicated people.
During the coaching process, Veterans are asked envisioning questions such as “What really matters to you?” and “What do you want your health for?”. Here’s a video link that illustrates what great things are happening in the VA.
In general, regardless of the model or setting coaches work from, we ask clients and patients what they want to change, without telling the client/patient what to do. We know from behavior change research that folks change when and what they want, and that when they are really listened to, and begin to see the impact of small changes, that a synergistic effect occurs. For example, if someone says they hate to exercise, and their goal is to increase their sense of community, what if, in the process they discover that a new friend wants a walking buddy? When in your own life have you discovered that a welcomed change comes about when you make movement in what seems like a completely different aspect of your life? Change doesn’t go in a straight line. It’s for most of us, a very curved one!
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
While doing simple repetitive tasks, breathe
Eat a meal and invite the nourishment in all your cells
When I noticed this seed packet in the hardware store, I was reminded of Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness in which hediscusses 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.
What if we noticed the good more often in others at home and work, rather than punishing the bad? It’s a radical notion to some, I know. My husband and I are raising two puppies, sisters in fact. If there’s any evidence of our patience, or lack thereof, in the world it’s been manifested in recent weeks. On the other hand, it’s provided an incredible opportunity to reflect on what’s working really well with each, and both of us, what’s not working so well, and loving each other in the midst.
Veterinarian and dog behaviorist Ian Dunbar has a lot of information on the web. It’s all relevant to our lives with dogs, and each other. I found this one particularly compelling because of the human relationship message at the end. Watch this 11-minute video and contemplate how you might bring more of this noticing the good into your life.
In September, I rode an amazing horse named Duke. It was a birthday gift from my husband. A wonderful one. I was surprised at how the ride began for me. When I sat in the saddle, I felt fear. This was new…all my younger life I rode horses and ponies. Never afraid. So I was perplexed by this new emotion in the saddle.
We rode for 3 hours on rocky, muddy, pine-strewn wooded trails in Nelson County, Virginia. I realized early on that my breath was going to be my friend, and so was this horse. After I settled in, kept noticing my physical sensations, breathing, while keeping heels down and hands relaxed, I realized this was a trust experience. Trusting both myself and Duke. Later, when slipping down a muddy embankment, I asked our guide Kenton what the best way to approach this. Kenton said, “Trust your horse, let him go, he knows what to do”. Sure enough, Duke did. His feet were steady, breath deep and constant.
I took away visceral memories from this day…the smell of horses so familiar to me, what I learned from watching their breath, how I brought my mindfulness, yoga, and body awareness into a joyful, challenging experience. The thoughtful gift from Jim.
That’s what coaching does. Helps you trust who you are, what you value, what health–your whole health— means to you. Coaching is like having someone else in a tandem kayak, or riding along beside you as you gather the reins and move toward mindful awareness of goals.