Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend A Day of Practice with master teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn in Los Angeles through Insight LA. For those who don’t know him, Jon Kabat-Zinn is the father of mindfulness in the west, as he secularized this ancient 3,000-year-old practice and integrated it into the seminal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and clinic he founded in the late 1970’s. He is one of the main proponents in bringing mindfulness to as many sectors of our society as possible, to transform the way we relate to pain, stress, our minds, our emotions and each other.
On this practice day, I had the opportunity to deepen my own practice, choosing to come back to the present moment repeatedly, and see things (thoughts, emotions, situations, people, memories) for what they are, and not what my mind and story say they are. What I walked away with was the reminder that:
life itself is the real curriculum, the continuous meditation.
It is in our daily lives that we are offered moments of choice, where we can choose to wake up and notice what our minds are telling us, how we are feeling inside and out, and notice the richness of life unfolding before our eyes. In that unfolding, we can find opportunities to learn, not just about whatever the subject is, but learn more about ourselves and perhaps tap into and trust our inner wisdom and being. This is the power of waking up. Either on the cushion or off the cushion, the real power is in our awareness and choice. This is the power of mindfulness.
The curriculum that unfolds in life generally surrounds relating a healthy way. For example, relating to those important people in your life. The relationships between you and your parents, children, family members, friends and, of course, yourself are ripe for investigating conditioned reactions in any situation. How do you relate to another? Do you bring a bias with you before interacting? Do you anticipate one of the MANY ways of how the other MAY respond? Are you listening to what the other has to say fully before offering a response, or are you conjuring up what you will say before the last word leaves their lips?
How might attending to your conversations with a full heart and perhaps a beginner’s mind affect the dialogue and relationship? Test it out. With the next interaction you have, try stopping and pausing before reacting. End the multi-tasking, and engage with your presence to let the person you are conversing with know that they have your full attention. And then open your awareness. Hear what is being said. Observe body language. Tune into the moment and be curious. Reiterate back to confirm what you possibly heard. And then listen to the wisdom that arises in you (your intuition), and respond consciously. This simple act is not so simple to do. It takes commitment to direct your attention, and give yourself over to the moment and all that may arise, naturally. Many times, we want control over things: conversations, processes, and outcomes to name a few. What would happen if we gave the moment and the other person our full attention, and observe as a scientist would, what is happening outside and within?
So, sometime in your day today, ask yourself “What lessons may I learn from the curriculum of life? What choices will present themselves? How will I relate? Will I react on autopilot, or can I pause, disrupt how I normally react, and intentionally choose my response? Can I hear and see things clearly, with curiosity and without expectations or biases? How might these lessons affect my life and the people with whom I interact?” Investigate and then sit back, observe and allow your wisdom to surface. There is nothing to lose and potentially so much to gain. What will you choose? How will you relate? How will you respond?
To end this post, I’d like to share wise words that I was recently reminded of, from Arianna Huffington. Some food for thought for the curriculum of life:
“We have little power to choose what happens, but we have complete power over how we respond.”
Check out the guest blog post I penned this week for A2Z Healing Toolbox.com . This is a GREAT resource for anyone experiencing any type of grief, loss, trauma and transition.
Whatever the grief is, know that comparing your grief with someone else does not help. Making it smaller than it is, or larger than it is does not serve you in dealing with it. Check out this website to find tools that may help you work through whatever it is that you need to work through. And know that you are not alone!
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a small group of uniquely inspired ladies on a retreat at the Keys Creek Lavender Farm, out in the country setting of Valley Center– which is about 30 miles from San Diego, CA. In this space known for growing, healing and well-being, we spent the day focusing on and celebrating “The Self”. We weren’t cultivating conceit, self-righteousness or self-absorption. What we were doing was finally giving ourselves permission to treat us the way we treat others in life… with love, kindness and compassion. Spending time to focus on ourselves is not commonly encouraged in our western culture, where to get ahead (and sometimes just to make ends meet) we work the extra hours doing as much as we can, in addition to taking care of those around us, and responding to their needs– be it our significant others, children, parents, pets, etc…. As women of the 21st century, we are conditioned to do it all: juggling work, family and home life. We rinse and repeat these conditions all the time. Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, sometimes we run out of time to do it all, and find ourselves stressed out, burned out and most of all– out of balance.
It’s All About the Selfie Retreat allowed these women to regain balance and well-being, and give themselves the care they need. They had the opportunity to slow down and experience life focusing on the present moment. They asked themselves questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I need?” They did this through various reflective exercises, mindful meditations and intentional activities that supported savoring the moment and experiences. They participated in strengths finding, walking meditation, mindful yoga, mindful eating (nourishing themselves with purpose), sending loving-kindness to their loved ones, themselves and the world, and mindful self-talk—applying self-compassion techniques to cultivate both positive emotion and to use as coping tools when things don’t go as planned.
There’s not enough time and space to describe the full retreat in one post, so I’ve broken the day down into a few posts with this being installation #1. By the way, The Selfie Retreat is a staple service of BeingMerry.com, and is scheduled to happen at least once per calendar quarter. For this post, I’d like to focus on the mindful walking meditations that promoted self-love, self-care and gratitude.
Mindful Walking Meditation
We held a few different perspectives during our walking meditation, where we either focused or opened our awareness intentionally as we moved through nature, from a vintage barn setting where the ceiling was covered with bunches of drying lavender, to the labyrinth space where a magnificent crystal sits at the center. We initially focused our awareness on the sensations of walking – noticing the sensations in our leg muscles moving us through this space, the functioning of our joints supporting our bones, and our feet touching the ground and propelling us forward. We also focused our attention on our breathing—the intake of air at our nostrils, the releasing of stress in our exhale, the rising and falling of our chests or abdomens, and the opening of our hearts as we took in all of these sensations. We were aware of feeling of gratitude inside ourselves, for the ability to walk, breathe and exist without too much difficulty in those moments.
Our focus of awareness shifted once we reached the rock-lined labyrinth. These structures are unlike mazes as they have only one starting and ending point, which are one in the same. Labyrinths have been used throughout history in many cultures and over many centuries as a symbol of one’s spiritual journey, among other things. As we slowly walked through the labyrinth, we contemplated our life’s own journey, accepting all that we have gone through that has led us here to this moment. Sometimes the difficult times we experience are hard to accept, however, if we reframe those times and look for the silver linings (the lessons we learned as a result of those hard times), we see that without both the good and the bad times, we would not be exactly where we are today.
We ended our walk with an open awareness meditation, sensing and savoring our surroundings. In this type of meditation, we are encouraged to notice everything around us employing as many senses as we can. We notice the strength and temperature of both the breeze and the sun on our skin, as well as the aroma of the sweet lavender and fresh outdoors, and finally the songs of the birds chirping nearby and the sound of feet shuffle along the dirt path. Looking at the trees we pass, we notice the texture of the bark and the shape and color of the leaves with all their gradients. We are aware of our feet on the dirt path, and realize that many before us have walked this way as well. We may feel a sense of common humanity—being a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We feel a sense of awe and gratitude for life itself—all around us, and the ability to be a part of it. We realize that we are so very blessed.
How will you take time for yourself today? Trying going for a walk in nature.
But don’t take my word for it… try a walking meditation for yourself. Focus your awareness on your bodily sensations, or open it up to nature and the world, noticing all her splendid details. Try one perspective and then the other. Explore which twist of mindful walking resonates with you. There are other things you can think about (or sense) on a mindful walk (in each step “you arrive”, in each step “you are home”—Thich Nhat Hahn encourages this perspective). The main point is that you focus your awareness, or open it up. When you find your mind wandering, as it will during meditations, just bring it back kindly to the object of your focus or intention. This kind of slowing down, and focusing or opening does not only change your body (giving it a break from the crazy running around many of us do), but also your brain (rewiring the stress response) and spirit (responding with awe and offering gratitude) as well. Try it as your-SELFIE just may thank you for it!
Spring is finally here… and so are opportunities for renewal– a time to shed an old coat (i.e. old habits, old perspectives, dated thoughts) and embrace a new one! This Winter I completed a couple of coach training classes, and continue on to more this Spring that will allow me to expand my Wellness offerings. This Winter I explored concepts such as wellness rituals, mindfulness, loving kindness and other meditations, the mind-brain connection, gratitude, eco-psychology (the relationship between us and the natural world), epi-genetics (how our environment can influence/change our genes), and the importance of sleep and customized sleep camps. I gathered numerous practical applications that I am excited to share with my clients and students.
My intention for this Spring is to live FULLY MINDFUL! One of the classes in which I am taking currently is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class through UCSD Center for Mindfulness. I am finding this class valuable and validating; engaging in different meditation practices to help down-regulate my system, and increase focus and awareness in the moment, and in everyday life. My teacher is a former student of Jon Kabat-Zinn– one of the major proponents of Mindfulness as a science and practice. I feel very grateful to have her lead me on this journey. Besides down regulating our systems, mindfulness is shown scientifically to increase compassion and structurally change the brain. Many great results are found cultivating mindfulness in your life.
Here is one mindful meditation that I experienced in my Mentorcoach Wellness class called “Just this..”.
- Find yourself in a comfortable position. If sitting, make sure your sitting tall, with your back supported and your shoulders down.
- Close your eyes, or find a focal point on which to center around.
- Inhale a deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs up with fueling air as much as you can.
- Exhale through your mouth, slowly, extending the exhale for as long as you can.
- Feel your abdomen or chest rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation.
- On the next inhale, as you breathe through your nose think the thought “just” (and the number 1).
- On the exhale, as you release through your mouth think the thought, “this” (and the number 1).
- Repeat this process, incrementing the number by 1 each time (i.e. just 2, this 2, just 3, this 3…).
- Repeat the process until you get to the number 10… just 10, this 10.
- Return to normal breathing and open your eyes.
- Ask yourself, how does my body feel? How does my mind feel? How do I feel over all?
Sometimes our bodies and minds need a moment to slow down and rest for a moment. In our hectic world, taking care of things and multi-tasking as much as possible, this break can bring a lot of relief– if only for 10 seconds or more. However, investing those 10 or so seconds can have an effect on the rest of your 24-hours.
When you are in a stressful situation… take a moment and do this meditation. It will help you stand back from the stress, and gain a new perspective. If you do use this, let me know how you liked it. If you wish to learn more about this field, contact me. I’d like to chat and figure out how to help you cultivate this kind of practice in your life.