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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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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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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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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