Mindfulness – An Invitation to Open to this Precious Life

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Butterflies in the night

Every moment is precious…

Since practicing mindfulness, I’m more aware of my surrounding. I find myself focusing on and attuning to the natural world; experiencing the poignant beauty of life. I’m not talking about the aesthetically pleasing, although that can be inspiring, but more so the beauty that is seen in all of life. That to every living thing, there is birth, growth and death and that’s not to be feared, but more so to be honored and appreciated.

Everything has it’s time; everything is constantly changing…

On an intellectual level, we all know that change is a constant, but on an embodied level it’s a totally different experience. When we practice mindfulness, we drop from living in the world of the intellect/thought making mind to connect with the aliveness that is here in this body, mind and heart and in the world around us. Being with and present to the changing sensations, emotions, thoughts, and witnessing these changes in the natural world is different from thinking, analyzing, and opining about them. It is like ice cream; unless you taste it, you won’t know it. Being mindful as we walk through life helps us broaden the lens of our experience and as we do this the boundaries between internal and external  begin to fall away. We no longer see ourselves as a separate part of nature, we realize and recognize, in real time that we are a part of nature.

Watching the growth of a flower, we can see how it reflects the natural cycle of life. We see it reflects the natural cycle of our existence. We, like the flower require light, nourishment and care. So, what is it like to be present, to sense the aliveness in the breath, to take in the warmth of the sun, to feel your feet touching the earth or to take in the smell of the rain? What’s it like to hear and share in the joy of others? Or to be present and sit with someone in pain, without the need to fix or say anything? These are the experiences that can begin to wake us up out of mindless living. Instead of categorizing life as things; collecting intellectual knowledge about them, or how they serve a purpose, what we can use them for or get from them, we come into direct contact with life as it is. As we shift how we are relating to the natural world, we see and experience life in this heartful, embodied and transformative way. Our hearts open to the full spectrum life has to offer. Birth, growth and death are not things to be avoided, but part of life that is to be experienced.

A poem that so beautifully expresses this is the Guest House by Rumi. Take a moment to let the words resonate within:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

All is welcome…

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He/she may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
Learning to let be…
And so the invitation is to open to life unconditionally. To cultivate the compassionate heart and the wise mind is what frees us from living in a dead zone of virtual thoughts.To be with life as it’s happening, is what helps us wake up out of thinking and chasing a better there than here. As we do this we begin to appreciate the preciousness of life.
Again, the invitation is to to reflect on the possibility of living mindfully; meeting life with a compassionate heart and a beginner’s mind, as you reflect on Mary Oliver’s question,  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
May you be well…

To register for our Sunday, weekly mindfulness meeting please join us at West Broward Insight Community-Coral Springs.

To register and pay for our next retreat, which takes place from January 3-7th at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl.  please click on 5 Day Vipassana/Mindfulness Retreat

 

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Let it Be – Practice Being With…

Everything comes together and then falls apart. This is the cycle of life. Photo courtesy of Cassandra L. Johnson at glasseyedtigress.com

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that.The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” Pema Chodron

The spiritual path leads us back to wholeness; to meet life with a compassionate heart and wise mind. And while it is what we long for, it is also challenging. Because what the path requires, is for us to “let it be…” Just this short phrase contains tremendous potential for freeing the mind and heart from our habitual conditioned responses of trying to hang on to what we like and avoid what we don’t like. In this movement, towards and away, is the stress and suffering that leads away from wholeness. As Pema says, “the healing comes from letting there be room for things to be just as they are…making space for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. And this is the invitation, whether we are on retreat, sitting on the cushion at home or in conversation with someone. It is to be present, mindful of our bodily, verbal and mental impulses and actions when there is reactivity present. And this  is what we explore on retreat, we sit on the cushion and commit to be with whatever arises, meeting it with the heart of compassion and the wise mind. And in the stillness, is the practice of letting be…

Letting be vs. letting go

We sit so that we’ll be more awake in our lives. Pema Chodron Photo courtesy of Cassandra L. Johnson at glasseyedtigress.com

On the last day of our 5 day retreat, I led an experiential exercise around letting be vs. letting go. There is a significant difference between these two. Letting be arises out of wisdom, when we pause and reflect with mindful non-judgmental awareness on what is happening in this very moment, meeting it with kindness and acceptance. Letting go arises out of ego and the illusion that we are still in control of the situation, we are choosing to let go. Here’s the * exercise I shared (get a piece of paper before  you begin).  I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on the difference between letting go and letting be:

  • Sit in a comfortable position, setting aside distractions while you do the exercise.
  • Take a few moments to connect with the breath, the body, the heart. let the body and mind settle as you breathe.
  • Get a piece of paper, crumple it and make a fist.
  • Hold your fist out in front of you.
  • Notice what it feels like to hold on to the paper so that it doesn’t fall. Tighten the grip and feel the sensations of holding on.
  • Now imagine what it’s like to make your way in the world in this contracted state. Painful, stressful, uncomfortable and the heart is closed off.
  • Now turn your fist around towards the sky and gently, slowly, open the hand letting the paper rest on the soft palm of the hand. Imagine what it would be like to move through the world like the open hand. Not trying to get rid of anything, not clinging to anything, just learning to let be.

Like a Still Forest Pool

be mindful. Then you mind will become still in any surroundings…Photo Courtesy of Cassandra L. Johnson at glasseyedtigress.com

“Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All Kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things comd and go and you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.” Ajahn Chah

The open hand is similar to the open sky mind that has room for all of life. Sadness, anger, fear, joy, grief can be held this space of loving awareness. This is what we did as we came into retreat; we (both teachers, support staff and participants) created a container that was safe, supportive and compassionate. And as the days passed, we could sense a letting be, a softening, curiosity, openheartedness that came with the capacity to just be with what was arising in this healing. It wasn’t that the reactivity didn’t happen, it wasn’t about getting rid of the aversion or clinging. It was about meeting it with a open receptive mind and a caring heart. And this is the sacred pause, Tara Brach speaks of. A pausing to be with what’s arising be it joy, sorrow, judgement, pain, etc. We let it be and turn towards it with the intention of bringing kindness, and compassion to this experience.

The arising of compassion and wisdom comes when we stop trying to control life and just let it be.  It is only then that the wisdom to do and act in ways that are healing and caring can naturally arise. This is what this path is pointing at. The possibility of freeing the mind and heart from living in a contracted, fearful and defensive state. It’s a gradual practice. I say it is one of learning how to sit with whats uncomfortable. Bringing a sense of compassion to what is difficult. This is what helps to thaw out the icy, defended heart. And the world is in need of compassion and wisdom. So practice for yourself and know that in doing so you are helping to bring healing qualities to the world and that is Noble endeavor.

Our next Insight Meditation retreat takes place on January 3rd -7th 2020, at the lovely Casa San Carlos Retreat Center. To register please follow this link. If you have any questions please email us at wbmindfulness at gmail.com

*The exercise was taken from the book 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness by Arnie Kozak, PhD

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No Mud, No Lotus….

“The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering

The lotus is symbolic of awakening. It’s what Thich Nhat Hanh talks about when he says we transform suffering to happiness. This may sound like an impossible task, yet it is what many of us seek the spiritual path. It is also what we  experience when we commit to attend a retreat held in Noble Silence Retreat. It is what I experience in a profound way asco-facillitator of our Mindfulness Retreat.

As beloved mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.”  So going on a silent retreat is a courageous and fearless act of love. It is an act of love to be present for this precious life, no matter if it the circumstances at the moment are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. This is the opposite of what we do in our every day busy life, where we are moving through life on autopilot.

The Three Invitations…

All are welcome to the practice…Photo courtesy of Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

As I reflect back on the last retreat and the instructions we gave participants, I am struck by the simplicity and power of the

three invitations offered on entering Noble Silence. Which were:

Slow down, be mindful, kind and attentive as you move from one activity to another, while you are engaged in the activity and after you end the activity. Be present for the transition, as you move from the end of one activity to the beginning of another. This is important as it is an opportunity to experience in real time, the movements of the mind. It is also an opportunity to be notice what it’s like to be embodied and what it’s like to connect with the compassionate heart.

Learning to Stay…

This is what we do on retreat and any time we are mindful. It’s learning to stay. And it is truly a Stay…I love the way Pema Chodron talks about the committment to stay present for our lived life. She says “To be encouraged to stay with our vulnerability is news that we definitely can use. Sitting meditation is our support for learning how to do this. Sitting meditation, also known as mindfulness-awareness practice, is the foundation of Bodhichitta training. It is the home ground of the Warrior Bodhisattva.”

At the start of retreat, I shared the following from Pema Chodron’s book, The Places that Scare you, on learning to stay…” The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say “Stay!” “Come!” “Roll over!” and “Sit up!” but he will also be neurotic and confused. By contrast, training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure.

So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.”

The third invitation was to begin again, to come back over and over again to this body, mind and heart, even if they left one thousand times.

These three invitations; slow down, stay and begin again served as a mantra or prayer, a compassionate reminder to be present for this precious life. And this is what we will be exploring in our upcoming 5 day Vipassana Retreat. Because the truth is, we all need to awaken to the preciousness of life and to learn how to care for ourselves, others, and all beings in a way that is wise, kind and leads us to be a healing and safe refuge for all. The practice is what can get us there.

Join us to learn more about this heart and mind opening practice. To register click on EvenBrite and then on the tickets tab to choose your level of accommodation. We hope to see you there!

May you be well 🙂

 

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Kindness as an Antidote to Fear

Image result for fearlessness

“Fearlessness also comes from benevolence and goodwill in the face of whatever oppresses you. You are afraid, but instead of fighting what faces you, you embrace it and accept it—you develop loving-kindness as a direct antidote to fear.”  Sylvia Boorstein

Calling on the power of kindness in the face of fear takes tremendous courage. It means we shift from automatically reacting in ways that intensify the fear towards responding to the fear in ways that help us stay present and openhearted. This is Mindfulness and Compassion in action. And it is this shift that helps us respond with wisdom to what are often challenging and painful situations.

This is is from an interview between Krista Tippett and Naomi Shihab Nye, on the power of kindness. Naomi states, “In the aftermath of September 11th, so many people had the sense that “everything had changed” — and I wrote of the necessity of really questioning and interrogating that feeling. I said, “We can continue to remind ourselves of what is important and try to live in ways nourishing for human beings and continue to nourish our ability to grow in our perceptions to more than we used to know, to empathize with distant situations and sorrows and joys.” That doesn’t have to change.

Being kind, generous, loving, compassionate, towards others is essential to our well being and the well being of the world. That doesn’t have to change. Kindness is an important part of the spiritual path and it is an integral par of the Buddhist path. It is what the Buddha taught. Yes, the Buddha taught about suffering; that there is suffering in life, there are the causes and conditions that bring it about, there is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering and there is an end to stress dissatisfaction and suffering. And throughout the teachings the Buddha teaches kindness, through his words, teachings and actions. It is through wisdom and compassion that healing and connection with what matters most happens.

It is in inclining towards kindness that wounds are healed, hearts are mended, defenses and limiting beliefs shift. Kindness is sometimes the only thing that gives meaning to life;  that takes us outside of living in a small contracted self. And it’s the antidote to fear and quite a powerful one.

I remember when I was going through a challenging time in my life. My son was struggling with depression and while I knewImage result for be kind to yourself pema he was sad, I had no idea that he was depressed, nor the depth of the depression. Being a therapist, the cycle of judgement, shame and intense fear arose and while I tended to my son and was able to get him the help he needed, internally the inner critic was out of control. The inner dialogue was full of shoulds, coulds, woulds , if only, if then and on and on it went. It was like being on an emotional roller coaster. And at the time I was enrolled in a Yoga Teacher training and the day after I talking to my son, I was supposed to go to weekend teacher training. I didn’t want to go! I just wanted to crawl under the covers and stay there until the pain and terror lifted. I knew this wasn’t helpful, but felt lost and overwhelmed. When I called the teacher to tell her about what happened and how I was going to stay home, her response was one of profound kindness. She said, “come be with those who care about you, let us love you.” And even though it was hard, I went to the training. I’d also learned about loving kindness practice and on the way to her house I just kept repeating the phrases as a way of helping me stay present in the face of tremendous fear and sadness. And it wasn’t just towards myself that I was sending the phrases, it was towards my son, my husband, and all the people who in that moment were also suffering and who just like me wished to be free from suffering. It was a movement towards acceptance of what was arising in that moment and a holding the fear in a space of kindness. For me this practice was a safe refuge from the emotional storm within.

It is very close to the description given by Brother Phap Dung, a senior monk and teacher at Plum Village, the Buddhist community founded by the Zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh on how to meet fear with kindness.

He says, “We see the mind like a house, so if your house is on fire, you need to take care of the fire, not to go look for the person that made the fire,” Dung says. “Take care of those emotions first, because anything that comes from a place of fear and anxiety and anger will only make the fire worse. Come back and find a place of calm and peace to cool the flame of emotion down.”

And this is a profound act of kindness, when we are able to be present for what is challenging and meet it with kindness. Whether it is ourselves or others who are facing struggles, it’s essential to meet life with a kind heart.

The Buddha taught the monks to practice loving kindness as an antidote to fear. A Buddhist discourse on this practice is Image result for loving kindness phrasesfound in the Karaniya Sutta, where the Buddha teaches the monks the practice of Loving Kindness; how to open the heart to fear and meet it with kindness and friendliness. The monks having goine out to meditate in the forest, as they often did during the rain seasons, encountered resistance from the tree spirits (replace deities with any resistance or reactivity that you encounter in daily life) that resided there. As the story goes…” the tree deities harassed them in diverse ways, during the night, with the intention of scaring them away. Living under such conditions being impossible, the monks went to the Buddha and informed him of their difficulties. The Buddha then instructed them in the Metta sutta (phrases of loving kindness) and advised them to return equipped with this practice for their protection. The monks then returned to the forest, and practicing the phrases of loving kindness, permeated the whole area with their radiant thoughts of loving-kindness. The deities so affected by this power of love, allowed them to meditate in peace.

And yes there is myth in the story as good stories often do. Still the message is real, that in life we will encounter fear and when that happens, we can either react in ways that intensify the fear or we can shift towards the wise qualities of mind and heart that help us stay present and respond in ways that are healing and kind; that kindness becomes an antidote to fear.

I love the poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that speaks about Kindness. There is a true story behind the poem that speaks to the power of kindness in the face of loss and fear. She says, “My husband and I were on our honeymoon in Popayán, Colombia. We had just gotten married one week before and we’d  planned to travel in South America for three months. At the end of our first week there, we were robbed of everything, and someone else, who was on the bus with us was killed.  (He’s the Indian in the poem.)  And it was quite a shake-up of an experience…And what do we do now? We didn’t have passports. We didn’t have money. We didn’t have anything. What should we do first? Where do we go? Who do we talk to? And a man came up to us on the street and was simply kind and just looked at us — I guess he could see disarray in our faces, and he asked us in Spanish, “What happened to you?”  We tried to tell him, and he listened to us, and looked so sad. And then he said, “I’m very sorry. I’m very, very sorry that happened,” ; and then he went on. And then we went to this little plaza, and I sat down, and all I had was the notebook in my back pocket, and a pencil. And my husband was going to hitchhike off to Cali, a larger city, to see about getting traveler’s checks reinstated —And  this was worrisome to us, because, suddenly, we were going to be split up. I was going to stay here, and he was gonna go there. And as I sat there alone, in a bit of a panic, night coming on, trying to figure out what I was going to do next, this voice came across the plaza and spoke this poem to me — spoke it. And I wrote it down.

And here’s the poem…

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
You must lose things,  feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.

May kindness follow you everywhere like a shadow or a friend…

P.S. Please join us for one of our mindful events, where we explore these healing and heart opening practices together. Join our meet up group at West Broward Mindfulness-Meet Up. Or join us for our upcoming 5 day Residential Mindfulness Retreat at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach Fl. It takes place from August 23rd-27th. More information can be found at EventBrite-West Broward Mindfulness Retreat

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Learning to stay…

“The great gift of a spiritual path is coming to trust that you can find a way to true refuge. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”
― Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened  

This is the practice of mindfulness, we learn to trust that we can find a different way of relating to life, one where we learn to meet our moment to moment experience, with kindness, compassion, joy and wisdom. This is what we explored this past weekend, during our first 5 day Mindfulness Retreat of the year. The theme of the retreat was the four limitless qualities of the heart and how they help us stay present for our moment to moment experience meeting what arises in a wise and compassionate way. As Tara Brach states, “Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”

During retreat, there were challenging times for all of us, the benefit of being in the container of the retreat space is that we explored how to sit through the challenges, learning to hold them with patience, kindness and compassion. And the gift was doing this in the presence of a warm, supportive environment. As Ram Dass says, ” we are all walking just walking each other home.”

Moving out of the trance of separation…

Retreats offer us the opportunity to break out of what Tara Brach calls the trance of separation. We open to the reality that we are all interconnected, we’re wired for connection and need each other; not just to survive but to thrive. Throughout the retreat, we (the facilitators and support team) kept inviting participants to slow down, be present, become aware of the mind; notice what it’s like to be present, inhabiting the body, mind and heart, Notice what it’s like when mind wanders off into thinking, planning, judging, worrying or some other state of mind. When the mind drifts off, the invitation was to come back over and over again. And this advice wasn’t just  for the participants, it was a kind reminder to all of us!

The first few days, were about slowing down the frenetic pace at which we move through life. An important part of this process, was the recognition that shifting from auto pilot to embodied awareness takes time, patience and a lot of kindness. So, the main instruction, was to meet whatever arose in the body, mind or heart with curiosity, kindness and compassion. This was a pivotal shift,; it was/is a movement away from reacting towards responding to life.

Meditation tames the reactive mind….

Retreat is a safe container in which to train the mind. As facilitators, there is much love and planning that goes into creating a

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash – Retreat is an opportunity to connect with our aliveness…

safe and stable environment, in which to sit with the reactive mind and heart. It is also a commitment, where we set aside all distractions and dedicate time to being with this distracted, reactive and complex mind/heart. We connect with the aliveness that is right here; contained within this body, mind and heart. This is a courageous and fearless act of love and one that takes a healthy dose of patience; coming back to the breath over and over again.

As Pema Chodron states, “The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say “Stay!” “Come!” “Roll over!” and “Sit up!” but he will also be neurotic and confused.”

When things become challenging, uncomfortable or painful, our tendency is to resist. This resistance is what creates suffering. The judgment, the self blame or blaming others and a whole host of other ways we react, are habitual patterned ways of trying to protect ourselves. The pattern is not who we are; it’s a way of trying to avoid pain, and that same avoidance often creates intense stress and strife. On retreat, we get to step out of this pattern and to see how the mind creates stories of that take us away from the present moment; we get to see the habitual patterned ways we have of disconnecting from our aliveness; from presence, kindness and compassion.

Attend and befriend what’s here…

Meditation is a training in learning how to stay present; whether things are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. As Tara Brach, says, “we learn to attend and befriend the fear that keeps us in perpetual reactivity; running away from what’s unpleasant, seeking what is pleasant and tuning out when nothing is happening.”  This move towards the suffering is the first step towards freedom of mind and heart. And again,  it requires that we meet what arises with kindness and compassion.

Training with Kindness…

“Sitting meditation cultivates loving-kindness and compassion…. We move closer to our thoughts and emotions and get in touch with our bodies. It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. It is our vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person.” Pema Chodron

At the beginning of retreat, we addressed this need to cultivate compassion, kindness and patience as we sat with our moment to moment experience. We spoke about and explored the need to stay with our direct experience, even when everything in our body and mind was saying the opposite. And how the most important companion we needed on this journey was/is kindness. As Pema says,  “…training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure.  Whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.”

Love and Kindness

Seeing life as it is….

This ability to cultivate steadfastness, is what allows us to stay connected to life; to connect in a way that is both wise and compassionate. When we do this, we get to experience life, in all it’s joys and sorrows. We remember that we are interconnected; we aren’t apart from nature, we are part of nature.

With much appreciation to all who made this retreat a heartfelt experience; the attendees, teachers and support staff. Thank you for making this a safe, compassionate and joyful space!

Our next retreat takes place at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl. and is a 5 day Mindfulness retreat. This is a space limited event, so register soon to reserve your spot. Register at Eventbrite-August 23rd-27th Mindfulness Retreat or enroll in our 3 month installment plan here.

Until next time…

May you be well

 

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The Two Wings of the Bird; Mindfulness and Self Compassion

“The two parts of genuine acceptance — seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion —are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free.”

It is said that mindfulness is like a bird; it needs two wings to fly. The two wings are clear seeing or wisdom and compassion.

In our meditation circle, we spoke about this and why cultivating compassion is such an important part of the practice. It is like the image of the bird, both wings need to be in balance in order for the bird to soar. When compassion isn’t informed by wisdom, it turns to pity. Too much wisdom and it turns into intellectualization. So, there must be a balance between compassion and wisdom, to help us stay present with the challenges we face in life, and to learn from them. In this post I’d like to focus on the wing of compassion/self-compassion.

Why it’s important to begin with self-compassion…

As a therapist, I counsel clients, who are facing challenges in their lives. So compassion towards their suffering, is an important part of the healing process. It is also important to have self compassion, to be a compassionate witness to what is difficult to be with. Compassion and self-compassion, are healing antidotes to pain. It is indeed powerful medicine, when we are able to meet pain in this healing way. Meeting pain in this way helps us stay grounded and present. It also helps us slow the chain of reactivity and come into connection with the qualities of mind and heart that are able to open to, and hold what is difficult. We become aware, of our moment to moment experience, meeting it with curiosity and kindness.  With this present moment awareness, we can attend and befriend that which is in need of kind attention. This is the opposite of what we usually do when we are hurt, angry or grieving. Our habitual reactive response to these feelings, is to defend ourselves. This isn’t helpful, as it takes us further away from the healing power of the heart. And this is where self-compassion is needed.

Rumi speaks to this in the poem below:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.1 Buddha Relics
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

With mindfulness, we become aware of how we are paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. When we pause and slow down the reactive mind, wisdom can arise and with wisdom, a moment of choice. This moment is a pivotal choice point; continue down the road of reactivity/suffering or shift towards a more healing response.  This is the power of self compassion. We shift from needing to find the villian in the story (others, ourselves), to helping ourselves tend to what is tender and in need of acceptance and kindness. There isn’t a need to go after, or punish anyone. Instead, we turn towards the pain and recognize, that this is a moment of suffering. With that recognition, self compassion arises and we can then be with what’s happening, bringing kindness and compassion to it. So what does that look like?

Turning towards pain

Image result for self compassionIt’s not an easy practice, this turning towards pain. Especially when we’ve been conditioned to respond to pain with aversion, as if it’s not a part of life. So, as you are learning to practice self compassion it is important to be patient with yourself. What I’ve found to be most helpful, is to shift from the story about what happened/is happening to what is felt in the body. so I’ll experience anger as a burning feeling in my stomach, when I feel that, I place my hand on my stomach as a symbol of care and compassion. This instantly brings me into contact with what is happening in the present moment. I feel the pain that is beneath the anger and if I stay with it, breathing into the area of distress and softening around it, the hurt begins to soften. This didn’t happen when I practiced for the first, second or 20th time. It took time to really learn how to shift from feeding the anger with thoughts and stories, to be with the direct painful experience that was happening in the present. A resource that helped is Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion; The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

It also helps to belong to a Mindfulness Meditation Circle that focuses on exploring the practices which help us cultivate wisdom and compassion. Our Sangha, has definitely helped me to deepen my own meditation practice and how these teachings help us cultivate wisdom and compassion. However, if you don’t have a local group, there online groups you may join, that practice on a regular basis.

With the state of the world today, there truly is a need, for all of us to learn how to be a healing presence for all living beings. This helps us and when we are more compassionate towards ourselves, we are able to be more compassionate towards others.

Want to learn more? Join us at our weekly meditation circle, RSVP at Meetup.com or at our upcoming 5 Day Residential Mindfulness Retreat at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center. To register go to our Event Registration page.

If you would like more information on this practice, please feel free to contact me here.

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Cherish This Very Moment…

“Cherish this very moment. Let go of the stream of distress and embrace life fully in your arms.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Butterflies in the night

Every moment is precious…

These words are from a lovely poem by Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist, Thich Nhat Hanh.  Listening with an open mind and heart allows the words to move you, to realize that each moment is a precious gift. That when we approach life with a real honoring of each moment, it allows us to shift from living in a mindless haze to being fully present; feeling our body, breath and the life energy moving through us. When we are truly present for life, aware, open in body, mind and heart, we stay open hearted and allow the suffering of the world to touch our hearts. This shifts us towards pausing, sensing what’s here, and what’s needed or how can we respond to suffering in a way that is both wise and compassionate . This is something that is desperately needed in our world. It is both a privilege and a honoring of life when we are present for it, when we respond to the need, when we cherish each moment, each person and every living being.

Please take a moment to read the poem…don’t rush through it. Receive the words as a blessing, let them touch the heart and as he says enjoy moments of happiness and offer it to everyone. Open to life in all it’s different forms and meet it mindfully and compassionately.
Our True Heritage
 
The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.
 
It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.
 
You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.
 
This poem is from “Call Me By My True Names” The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh.

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The Gift of Retreat – Entering into Noble Silence

‘For someone deeply trapped in a prison of thought, how good it can feel to meet a mind that hears, a heart that reassures.’ Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

The gift of retreat…

Going away on a spiritual retreat is an act of courage and kindness.  When we enter Noble Silence, we take a vow to keep silent for a certain period of time. this commitment is an important part of retreat practice as it is in the stillness and silence that we get to connect with the vibrant aliveness that is always present. We connect with our senses; noticing sights, sounds, smells, touch, tastes and thoughts. This is completely different than the way we usually move through life. When we come into retreat we are making a commitment to be present for life in all it’s joys, sorrows and everything in between. In doing this, we get to reconnect with the wisdom and compassion that is available to us at all times.

The Benefits of Retreat…

At our recent 3 day retreat (October 5th-7th), participants were encouraged to support each other’s

practice, by taking a vow of silence. Initially, there were some

Love and Kindness

Seeing life as it is….

hesitation, nervousness at the though of prolonged silence, especially when the attendees were informed that they should set aside all mobile devices and refrain from contacting friends and family (excluding emergencies).  This is quite a commitment in today’s world of easy access to news, social media family, etc. However, it’s also a gift. The gift of being present to life as it’s happening; of connecting with the aliveness, wisdom and love in an up close and personal way. We make a commitment, to bring a kind and clear attention to our lived experience moment to moment, without judging it. This gives us freedom to just be! And connecting with life in this way allows us to take a much needed rest from the busyness of life.

Gil Fronsdal (lead teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA), talks about the benefits of a silent retreat. He says, “Because social conversation keeps the mind active, periods of not talking help the mind rest.  Silence settles the many emotions that are activated by talking, listening, and even in the anticipation of talking.  As our mental and emotional lives calm down, our bodies relax. ”

Quieting the Monkey Mind…

At the start of retreat we read a poem by Kaveri Patel (below) that speaks eloquently about the chattering mind.

THANKING A MONKEY

Monkey Mind

Meditation helps tame the mind….

There’s a monkey in my mind
swinging on a trapeze
reaching back to the past
or leaning into the future,
never standing still.Sometimes I want to kill
that monkey, shoot it square
between the eyes so I won’t
have to think anymore
or feel pain of worry. But today I thanked her and she jumped right
into my lap.
Trapeze still swinging
as we sat still.

Retreat: an opportunity to connect with life as it is…

“Meditation is a way to calm the monkey mind and offers relief from the constant mental chatter. It is actually not a way to make the mind “go” quiet – rather it’s a way to access the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 or so thoughts that the average person has every day.” From the Project Flow Blog.

Be still…be the lotus…

We can and do spend so much of our time lost in the virtual world of thoughts. And while thoughts

are not the enemy, when we react to them as if they’re facts, this can create much stress and confusion in our lives. Coming into retreat, gives us an opportunity to notice, often for the first time, how we are relating to our thoughts and how our thoughts affect us and those around us. For example, when our thoughts are filled with worry, the body reacts by preparing for a threat; tension arises, the heartbeat races, the muscles contract, your digestive system slows down. And that’s all just based on a thought! As the Buddha stated “whatever a person frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his/her mind. In retreat you get to see it, sense it, and learn to tend and befriend the chattering mind. We stop the war against ourselves and life and move towards wisdom, kindness and loving connection.

The Gift of Practice…

Tips for home meditation practiceMindfulness practice allows us to pause and connect with the life as it’s happening. The practice helps us recognize when thoughts are happening; and as space between thought and reaction develops, we notice how the body, mind and heart are affected by the thoughts. This pause allows for wisdom to arise; we begin to learn how to shift from reacting to responding and the reality is, that life is constantly changing. When we resist change we resist life; we get stuck in trying to control what’s happening around us.  This stops us from living and appreciating/responding to life in a way that is wise, healthy and compassionate. Practicing mindfulness, helps shines a light on this, in a way that goes beyond words, concepts and beliefs. It is the practice of sitting with the resistance, with the inner struggle, with anger, with doubt, with joy, happiness etc. It is a noble act to stop running and to be present for the experience of being alive. When we connect with life in this way we sense and experience the preciousness of each moment. It is like holding a precious bird in hand, knowing that  at some point it will fly away and grateful for the gift of it’s presence.

This poem by Martha Postlewaite, called The Clearing speaks about this. Listen with your senses and let the words land in the heart…

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

Please consider registering for our next 5 day retreat which will take place, April 19th-23rd at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, To register and pay in full please go to Eventbrite-April 19th-23rd or to sign up for the installment plan please click here.

If you have any questions please contact us here.

May you be well…

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Free the Mind, Awaken the Heart…

Waking up to life

Waking up out of our stories is one of the gifts of Mindfulness…

“It’s not life that causes suffering, it’s our story about life—our interpretation—that causes so much distress.” Pema Chodron

The practice of Mindfulness helps us wake up out of our stories about life. As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, tells us, it’s not life/what is happening in life that creates suffering, it’s our interpretation about it. This is great news! It means that we can help ourselves by being willing to be embodied, vulnerable, present and open hearted. We learn to shift from reacting to curiosity, kindness and cultivate the ability to respond to life with compassion. This is something that is lacking when pain is present. Whether it is physical, emotional or mental pain, our tendency is to react with aversion, avoidance or rumination.

There is a saying,  “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Easy to say and not always easy to do. And why is that? Because our tendency is to resist; we can get stuck in complaining, procrastinating or ruminating. All these ways of meeting pain, intensify it and transform it into suffering. But what if there were a way to shift towards a more healing and kind response? This is the potential that is offered by the practice of  mindfulness.

The Buddha taught the four Noble Truths and implicit in this teaching is the potential and  path to free ourselves from the many ways we create suffering.  As Thich Nhat Hanh, writes in The Heart of The Buddha’s teaching, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

See Life as it Really is…

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

We begin by seeing, experiencing life as it is, rather than how we want/don’t want it to be. Much of the time we live in our rational minds, we use logic to navigate life or we live consumed and controlled by our emotions. To live from either of these places is to be out of balance with life. So it really is important to connect with what heals us. Here we aren’t talking about material things. Yes, we need them, but it’s not something that moves our heart and nourishes us. It is our connection to each other that helps us feel alive, our connection to the breath that brings us immediately into the present moment. And this is where practice comes in….

As we practice, we begin to see, sense and feel what’s happening in real time.  We stop getting caught up in our desires and aversions and shift towards being present with life and experiencing it. And what are we staying connected to? Wisdom, kindness, understanding, generosity, compassion and joy, to name a few. We connect with our capacity to accept life as it is and with that acceptance comes the ability to respond to what’s happening in a way that is helpful and wise.

It’s not the Trigger that creates suffering…

The Triggers are the tip of the iceberg. 10% is about the trigger and the remaining 90% includes our experiences, trauma’s, hurts, needs, defenses, expectations, etc. It’s complicated and our mind works so quickly, that it’s difficult to parse out all the different causes and conditions that are arising in the moment. Pema Chodron, describes these tendencies as seeds that live in our unconscious. She says, “In the Buddhist texts, our tendencies with their habitual story lines are described as seeds in the unconscious. When the right causes and conditions come together, these preexisting propensities pop up like flowers in the springtime. It’s helpful to contemplate that it’s these propensities and not what triggers themselves that are the real cause of our suffering.”

How Mindfulness helps…

The practice of mindfulness, specifically meditation is one that helps us gather the scattered attention of

Stay Patient…trust the journey

the mind. As we develop this capacity to gather the attention we begin to see beyond the conceptual mind, into experience in real time. For example, if I am sitting on the cushion and I start to have anxious thoughts, instead of following or feeding the thoughts, I can shift attention towards:

  • What’s felt in the body (sensations, tightness, agitation, restlessness, etc.)
  • Is the mind contracted, lethargic, open
  • What emotions are felt in the body? Fear, worry, or some other emotion.
  • We can then ask what is needed to help ourselves.

If I’m too overwhelmed by the feelings, I can shift the attention towards the sensation of the breath; actually feeling the sensations of breathing in and out. This shift of attention, towards a neutral object helps stabilize and regulate our emotions. It helps break up the momentum of reactivity. Like hitting the pause button, we get to regroup, connect, and meet whatever is arising with kindness and compassion. We learn to respond to what is happening in the moment, instead of the story about what’s happening. To do this we need to learn how to respond with head and heart together or wisdom and compassion. This is the path to freedom.

“Only within our body, with its heart and mind, can bondage and suffering be found, and only here can we find true liberation.” This is the potential offered by this path.

Come practice with us and learn more about this transformational practice. Join us at our October 5th-7th retreat as we explore and practice together at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach. There are still spaces in the shared and private rooms. Reserve your space today. Register here.

May you be well…

 

 

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Freedom Comes When We Shift Our Perspective…

shift your world view

Let go of limiting views…

Our planet is but a speck in the universe and within that speck, we are like a grain of sand. Yet, when we face challenges, it’s as if we are the universe and everything else is a grain of sand. This is not to dismiss the reality that all of us face challenges; gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and shame, and praise and blame. This is what the Buddha called the 8 worldly winds. We all experience this, we get caught in it, like the fly in a spider’s web; we’re drawn to the promise of pleasure and when it turns out not to meet our expectations or is unpleasant we struggle against it. And this can happen dozens of times a day, hour, minutes or seconds. We ride the roller-coaster of desire (climbing) and/or aversion (descending) and it’s exhausting!

Let go of the way you want things to be…

Love and Kindness

Seeing life through the eyes of love…. Photo by Andrea Reiman Upsplash

The Buddha’s words on this aspect of life was clear. We hear it, when we listen to his words on the 8 worldly winds: “When gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure or pain arise for an ordinary person they do not reflect: “Gain (etc.) has arisen for me. It is inconstant and subject to change.” She(or he) does not discern it as it actually is. She welcomes the gain and rebels against the loss. She welcomes the status and rebels against the disgrace. She welcomes the praise and rebels against the censure. He welcomes the pleasure and rebels against the pain.’

Whenever there is resistance to what’s happening in our lives, there’s a need to shift perspective. This is the gift of this practice; the opportunity to soften our grip on our views, stories and opinions. We all have them! This is how we learned about life and how to survive. But there is more to life than surviving and this is the gift we receive when we are mindful.  A great source of suffering is wanting things to either stay the same or go away. Truthfully, nothing stays the same and this is as it should be. Impermanence is part of this experience of being alive. We are born, live for a short time and eventually die. The short time we have on earth is a gift and something to reflect on. When we learn to approach every moment with this deep wisdom and compassion, we are freed from our struggle to hold on. As Jack Kornfield says ” “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.”

May you be well…

Please join us for our upcoming retreat. Come explore this healing practice together. Spaces are limited. To register go to  October 2018 Mindfulness Retreat

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