Saturday, October 4, 2014

Healing yourself with writing

By Catherine Ann Jones

Our lives may be determined less by past events than by the way we remember them. Memory can be either disabling or enabling. Dr. Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of Man's Search for Meaning wrote that "…everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." What we think or imagine in fact is our reality, both individually and collectively. Healing and transformation is possible only through changing one's perspective from within. It is by making meaning out of memory that true healing and empowerment can occur. What story are you living? How do you choose to remember your story? The following allegory offers a clue.

Two Wolves: A Native American grandfather is talking to his grandson about how he feels about a tragedy in their village. "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The grandson asks, "Grandfather, which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" The grandfather places his hand on his heart and replies, "The one I feed."

How do we learn to "feed" the stories that heal?

How do we put together the pieces of the past? How can we rewrite our life story so that pain becomes meaningful and actually promotes growth and transformation?

One answer lies in focused journaling. This course offers a step by step journey of discovery and re-visioning through focused journaling. Throughout this course, the reader will be presented with writing exercises designed to facilitate healing and transformation. In this way, global healing takes place one individual, one tribe, at a time.

Negative Patterns

Negative patterns sometimes evolve for a reason. A child growing up in an alcoholic and/or abusive environment may create a wall around him or her for protection. Such defensive methods may actually ensure surviving emotionally and physically through challenging and threatening times in our lives. Years pass, however, and though now safe, these walls and other defensive mechanisms may sabotage our personal and professional lives. The wall is no longer needed yet it remains. It has become habitual. The first step is to become aware of what we have built around us. What stories we continue to tell ourselves to fortify the wall. Stories from the past live on in us long after the cause or effect is gone. Here's one small example. I recently taught a workshop at Esalen in Big Sur, CA. A woman had broken up with a man who also happened to be taking the workshop at the same time. Sitting in the circle with this former lover made the woman increasingly uncomfortable. And though she ! had looked forward to taking the workshop, she now felt unable to focus. I spoke with her privately for a few minutes then asked if she could for a moment separate the perception of the man from the inner story she was telling and re-telling within. She closed her eyes and was able to discriminate between seeing him and listening to the story she was keeping alive within herself. I asked her, "So who is telling the story?" She laughed, took a deep breath, and was able to release the old track from her mind – at least enough to return and focus on the remaining days of the workshop. This is not to say that her work was done in this moment, but she had acquired a new tool in lessening the trauma she had experienced from the break up with her partner. With a small shift in perspective, she had gained an insight into a deeper self enabling her to step back and witness a life event that had stalled her moving forward into a new life.

So what exactly happened here? A woman felt powerless because she was unable to let go of a story she was holding onto which made her a victim. Even though she no longer saw this man, her former lover, she carried him within, and over and over again inside was keeping this version of the story alive. Thus, in doing so, she made herself more and more powerless. All she did now was to step back and take responsibility for the story she was telling and re-telling. She could see herself as separate from what she was doing. She became a witness to her own creation of her daily life.

EXERCISE:

Think of a difficult event in your life, now past. Feel within the emotions associated with the person or event. Now visualize stepping back and see yourself telling the old story. Ask who is telling the story? Now choose to write a new version from where you are now standing, some distance away. Take all the time you need for this process.

As we grow these negative, protective patterns outlive their use. Then as maturity comes, we seek to create new, healthier patterns. It's not that the negative patterns leave, they simply go dormant, and the new healthier patterns take over, as it were. We learn, as the old grandfather did, to feed the good wolf. It makes sense to accept this and have compassion for not only the old negative patterns but for the child or young adult who needed them at the time.

Only when old patterns which no longer serve are released can new ones emerge. Sometimes new, healthier habits must be in place before releasing the old ones.

EXERCISE:

Feed or visualize positive thoughts as the fuel that powers your goals. Make a list of two columns with two headings: Negative and Positive. Under Negative, list any negative thoughts or feelings you have lived with and are now willing to release. Under Positive, list a new version transposed from the Negative version. After completing the list of both, read them and decide which ones you will adopt.

When traumatic or disturbing events either personal or collective happened to us when young, we may not have possessed the words to speak out then? The words would come later as we look squarely at our own lives and the world we live in, at how we got here from there. What in your history, both positive & negative, made you who you are today? By going through and beyond your own story, you will connect to the great universal story of us all.

Personal events are not the only forces that darken our psyches. Sometimes the soul's way is diametrically opposed to the collective tune, and we must find the courage to march to our own drum. It is possible peacefully to separate yourself from the dysfunctional collective whose message is that we are helpless and must accept the world as it is, that we are powerless to change it or our own lives. If we wait for only the perfect people to change the world, it will be too late. If speaking out can help one other person, how can we remain silent? How can I make a difference, be it ever so small? How do I choose to spend my free time? As Gandhi said, "Become the change you wish to see."
To be most effective, it is best if the movement towards change comes from within, that deeper part of our being. There is no greater force than being true to one's self and finding the courage to move forward in a centered way. How many times have allies –visible and invisible – come to our aid when we walk our true walk.

Writing or focused journaling can be a powerful tool for healing wounds and furthering our own growth as a human being. Writing is the best therapy I know. An only child, I began at age twelve writing in journals. The journal became my best friend, my confidante, and began, for me, a path of self-discovery.

Later earning my living as an actor then playwright in New York followed by a career as a television and screenwriter in Hollywood, I have experienced writing as a way of understanding the world and others. Writing for the popular television series, Touched by an Angel, I learned how important it is to tell the story from the character's Point of View or perspective. It is so in life as well. How we see our past is how our present will be imprinted. All we have are our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. These are what we remember, these become the memories good or bad which constitute a life. How we view our life matters tremendously. If we go deep enough, have the courage to let go the negative past, and allow a shift to occur, we can free ourselves of negative patterns which imprison by recreating negative feelings and events.

One example of a shift in seeing is this. Something occurs with a family member, friend, or business associate which causes us to become frustrated. You might habitually pronounce, "I'm frustrated." In this way, you become identified with frustration. You are walking frustration. Develop a practice of stepping back and just become aware of the frustration – without judgment or resistance. Instead of saying to yourself or others, I am frustrated, try saying instead, "Frustration is there." See it as something separate from you, as an uninvited guest who has dropped by. In this way, you may grow to see that you have no problems, only challenges. Remember you can only govern your reactions to what happens to you, not what happens.

EXERCISE:

Consider an unpleasant occurrence either recent or past. Write it down. Now close your eyes, breathe deeply and release, then visualize stepping back from this incident, seeing it from another point of view. Now write down your reactions to what happened to you – not the incident itself – only your reaction. Lastly, write down these words: "I take responsibility for my reactions."

Paul Reps in his wonderful collection, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones gives us the Zen story, Is That So? The Zen master Hakuin was praised by one and all as one living a pure life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. One day her parents discovered she was with child. At first, the girl refused to name the father yet after much harassment at last named Hakuin. In great anger, the parents marched over to the Zen master, and Hakuin responded by saying, "Is that so?"

After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. Now, his reputation lost, he did not seem troubled, and took very good care of the child. A year later the girl's mother could stand it no longer and told her parents the truth: that the real father was a young man who worked in the fish market. The parents rushed to Hakuin to beg his forgiveness and to get the child back again. Hakuin simply gave the child back to them, saying, "Is that so?

What if we adopted a welcoming attitude to life, letting go of a habitual defensive or controlling attitude? What would we attract then?


Friday, October 3, 2014

Benefits of loving-kindness meditation

Emma Seppälä looks at the emerging science around the benefits of loving-kindness meditation.

Soucre: http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/18-science-based-reasons-to-try-loving-kindness-meditation

Photo: Flickr.com/woo
Many of us have heard of meditation's benefits. We may have even tried meditation once or twice. And many of us will have found it hard and concluded that "meditation is not for me." But wait! Did you know there are many forms of meditation? There are mantra meditations, visualization meditations, open-focus meditations, breath-based meditations, and so many more. You just have to find the shoe that fits. An easy one to start with is one that evokes a very natural state in us: kindness.
What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Loving-kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others (Salzberg, 1997). As I've described in my TEDx talk, compassion, kindness and empathy are very basic emotions to us. Research shows that loving-kindness meditation has a tremendous amount of benefits ranging from benefitting well-being to giving relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence:
WELL-BEING
1. Increases Positive Emotions & Decreases Negative Emotions
In a landmark study, Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues found that practicing seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.
2. Increases vagal tone, which increases positive emotions & feelings of social connection
A study from 2013 found that individuals in a loving-kindness meditation intervention, compared to a control group, had increases in positive emotions, an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone—a physiological marker of well-being.
HEALING
We don't usually think of meditation as being able to help us with severe physical or mental ailments, but research shows it can help.
3. Decreases migraines
A recent study demonstrated the immediate effects of a brief loving-kindness meditation intervention in reducing migraine pain and alleviating emotional tension associated with chronic migraines.
4. Decreases chronic pain
A pilot study of patients with chronic low back pain randomized to loving-kindness meditation or standard care, loving-kindness meditation was associated with greater decreases in pain, anger, and psychological distress than the control group.
5. Decreases PTSD
A study reports that a 12-week loving-kindness meditation course significantly reduced depression and PTSD symptoms among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
6. Decreases schizophrenia-spectrum disorders
Also, a pilot study from 2011 examined the effects of loving-kindness meditation with individuals with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Findings indicated that loving-kindness meditation was associated with decreased negative symptoms and increased positive emotions and psychological recovery.
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IN THE BRAIN
We know that the brain is shaped by our activities. Regularly practicing loving-kindness meditation can help activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy & emotional intelligence.
7. Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain
We showed this link in our research (Hutcherson, Seppala & Gross, 2014) and so have our colleagues (Hoffmann, Grossman & Hinton, 2011).
8. Increases gray matter volume
in areas of the brain related to emotion regulation: Leung et al (2013); Lutz et al (2008); Lee et al (2012).
THE STRESS RESPONSE
Loving-kindness meditation also benefits your psychophysiology & makes it more resilient.
9. Increases respiratory Sinus Arrythmia (RSA)
Just 10 minutes of loving-kindness meditation had an immediate relaxing effect as evidenced by increased respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an index of parasympathetic cardiac control (i.e., your ability to enter a relaxing and restorative state), and slowed (i.e., more relaxed) respiration rate (Law, 2011 reference).
10. Increases telomere length—a biological marker of aging
We know that stress decreases telomere length (telomeres are tiny bits of your genetic materials—chromosomes—that are a biological marker of aging). However, Hoge et al (2013) found that women with experience in loving-kindness meditation had relatively longer telomere length compared to age-matched controls! Throw out the expensive anti-aging creams and get on your meditation cushion!
SOCIAL CONNECTION
11. Makes you a more helpful person
Loving-kindness meditation appears to enhance positive interpersonal attitudes as well as emotions. For instance, Leiberg, Klimecki and Singer (2011) conducted a study that examined the effects of loving-kindness meditation on pro-social behavior, and found that compared to a memory control group, the loving-kindness meditation group showed increased helping behavior in a game context.
12. Increases compassion
A recent review of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) concludes that loving-kindness meditation may be the most effective practice for increasing compassion (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012)
13. Increases empathy
Similarly, Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm and Singer (2013) found that loving-kindness meditation training increased participants' empathic responses to the distress of others, but also increased positive affective experiences, even in response to witnessing others in distress.
14. Decreases your bias towards others
A recent study (Kang, Gray & Dovido, 2014) found that compared to a closely matched active control condition, six weeks of loving-kindness meditation training decreased implicit bias against minorities.
15. Increases social connection
A study by Kok et al (2013) found that those participants in loving-kindness meditation interventions who report experiencing more positive emotions also reported more gains in perception of social connection as well.
SELF-LOVE
How many of us are slaves to self-criticism or low self-esteem? How many of us do not take as good care as we should of ourselves?
16. Curbs self-criticism
A study by Shahar et al (2014) found that loving-kindness meditation was effective for self-critical individuals in reducing self-criticism and depressive symptoms, and improving self-compassion and positive emotions. These changes were maintained three months post-intervention.
IMMEDIATE & LONG-TERM IMPACT
The nice thing about loving-kindness meditation is that it has been shown to be effective in both immediate and small doses (i.e. instant gratification) but that it also has long-lasting and enduring effects.
17. Is effective even in small doses
Our study—Hutcherson, Seppala and Gross (2008)—found an effect of a small dose of loving-kindness meditation (practiced in a single short session lasting less than 10 minutes). Compared with a closely matched control task, even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity toward strangers.
18. Has long-term impact.
A study by Cohn et al (2011) found that 35 percent of participants of a loving-kindness meditation intervention who continued to meditate and experience enhanced positive emotions 15 months after the intervention. Positive emotions correlated positively with the number of minutes spent meditating daily.
Want to give it a shot? I created a recording of the loving-kindness meditation we used in our study that you can download here or watch the clip below:
Emma Seppälä, Ph.D is a Research Scientist at Stanford University and the Associate Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.
Adapted from Emma Seppälä's blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

7 Things Mindful People Do Differently and How To Get Started

The intention of being more present in our lives is continuing to grow and touch an increasing amount of people. I have friends who I never would have imagined practicing mindfulness who now sit in daily meditation. When I look at the Seattle Seahawks, think of our military veterans or politicians sitting in the “Quiet Caucus” room, I’m filled with a whole lot of hope. When I see an increasing amount of kids and teens being taught mindfulness in their schools I see possibility. My wife and I ran a family retreat at Denim N’ Dirt Ranch and long before the deadline it was sold out showing me an increasing desire of parents wanting to bring mindfulness into their families. As people start to engage mindfulness I’ve noticed a few things they begin to do differently.

Practice Being Curious
One of the essential attitudes of mindfulness is beginner’s mind. This is engaging something as if for the very first time. People who practice mindfulness bring this attitude with them throughout the day. When they take a shower, they might imagine it was the first time feeling the water, smelling the soap, or watching the steam as it shifts and changes before their eyes. Novelty is one of the fastest routes to creating new neural connections.
Even a meal or snack becomes a chance to pause and reflect on how this simple peace of food holds everything in it, the earth, wind, rain and sunshine. All the people from around the world who contributed in making the ingredients and putting them together into what it is in that moment. This simple snack becomes a source of gratitude and a moment of recognizing the interconnection of all things.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” Curiosity leads the mindful person to get back in touch with the wonders and possibilities of life.
Forgive Themselves
Life comes with its obstacles and engaging a mindful life is not too different. Throughout the process there are times when we get too tired to practice, feel too busy, find ourselves doubting the process, get caught in avoiding what’s uncomfortable or just feeling too restless.
In practicing mindfulness we come to understand that these are not signs of failing at being mindful. Instead they are opportunities for learning about the hindrances of life, what gets in our way, and understanding two things: 1) What we need in those moments and 2) The fastest route to begin again.
The simple phrase of “forgive and invite” can be enormously helpful. When we get caught in an obstacle, we “forgive” ourselves for the time gone by, investigate the obstacle to learn from it, and then “invite” ourselves to begin again.
Practicing “forgive and invite” over and over again in life becomes an incredible strong vehicle for growth.
Hold their emotions lightly
When you start paying attention to any emotion you start to experience that it is an energy that is “in motion.” It has a certain nature of coming and going and in experiencing this we can naturally hold them more lightly. This enables us to not get so wrapped up in the difficult feelings, but instead hold them with a gentleness and tenderness. Maybe even learning from them as we get better and better at understanding what we need.
When the comfortable emotions are present we also hold those lightly as we know that are not permanent either, but have this same nature of coming and going. With this experience, people who practice mindfulness can be grateful for the good moments and graceful during the more difficult ones.
Practice compassion
Compassion can be defined as noticing suffering with an inclination to want to help in some way. A repeated practice of intentionally paying attention to ourselves with a curious and caring attention sends the implicit message to our brain that we’re worth caring about. As we start to pay attention to difficult emotions we become less afraid of them.
Instead they become our teachers guiding us to get increasingly better at not only understanding what our needs are or the needs of others, but at inclining to help ourselves or another. This act of self-compassion or compassion is the essential healing agent and facilitates connection which is a cornerstone to happiness.
Make peace with imperfection
Many of us are keenly aware of our imperfections and this erupts in a barrage of continuous self-judgment. As we start to practice being present we can’t help but see that we are not the only one who is imperfect. To be imperfect is to be human.
The imperfections that arise become less of a struggle and instead a source of recognizing the common humanity of all people. As Zen priest Dogen Zenji said, “To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is to not have anxiety over our imperfections.” Easier said than done, but mindfulness leans us in that direction.
Embrace vulnerability
Our brain’s default is to guard against vulnerability with ourselves and with others. However, someone who practices mindfulness comes to understand that vulnerability is where the gold is. From embracing vulnerability we develop courage, trust and connection. It takes courage to take the leap and be vulnerable, as we do this we begin to trust ourselves and others and in doing this we cultivate connection which allows us to feel safe and be happy. Of course this doesn’t mean we are vulnerable everywhere and at all times, we can be discerning about this, but slowly we begin to trust ourselves more and more.
Understand that all things come and go
If there is one singular law in life it is that nothing is permanent (except that law of course). When we close our eyes and listen we hear how sounds appear and disappear. When we open our eyes we see how over time the seasons change how nature looks. Food comes in our mouths, the taste is there and then it’s gone. We’re born on this earth, we grow up and eventually pass away. As we practice mindfulness, we come to understand this and in this way, life becomes increasingly precious. We begin to put our phones down more often and open our eyes to the sacred moments all around us. As I continue to hear over and again from any parent, “It all goes by so fast.” May we learn to savor this precious life.
Many people ask the question: "How do you start?"
The 15th century poet Kabir said, “Wherever you are that’s the entry point.” My wife had an interesting experience where she was home alone with our two boys. She wanted to do a meditation, but there was no space for it. A rare occurrence of our two boys playing in their room alone together opened her up to an idea. The entry point for her was to use sounds as her practice.
She sat on the couch, closed her eyes and opened up to listening. She heard the birds chirping, the chimes ringing and the sounds of the boys playing. She had a nice 20-minute meditation.
There are so many ways to begin, begin where you are.
One way to get started, reconnect or deepen your mindfulness practice is to take the 28 Day Challenge with the new online program Basics of Mindfulness Meditation.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Things that mindful people do

It may have started as a trend among Silicon Valley tech companies, but mindfulness seems to be here to stay for all of us.
2014 has been called the "year of mindful living," and in the past several months, mindfulness has made headlines in seemingly every major print publication and news site. No longer an activity reserved for the new age set, the public is looking to mindfulness as an antidote to stress and burnout, technology addiction and digital distractions, and a sense of time famine and constant busyness.
More and more research is legitimizing the practice, demonstrating that it may be an extremely effective intervention for a wide range of physical and mental health problems.
But beyond the buzz, what does it really mean to be a mindful person -- and what do they do differently every day to live more mindfully? Mindfulness, the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment, is both a daily habit and a lifelong process. It's most commonly practiced and cultivated through meditation, although being mindful does not necessarily require a meditation practice.
"It's the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally," explained Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique, in a video interview. "That sounds pretty simple... but actually when we start paying attention to how much we pay attention, half of the time our minds are all over the place and we have a very hard time sustaining attention."
Here are 13 things mindful people actually do every day to stay calm, centered and attentive to the present moment.
They take walks.
woman walking in park

"In our culture of overwork, burnout, and exhaustion, in which we're connected and distracted 24/7 from most things that are truly important in our lives, how do we tap into our creativity, our wisdom, our capacity for wonder, our well-being and our ability to connect with what we really value?" Arianna Huffington asked in a 2013 HuffPost blog post.
Her answer: Solvitur ambulando, which is Latin for "it is solved by walking." Mindful people know that simply going for a walk can be excellent way to calm the mind, gain new perspective and facilitate greater awareness.
Walking through green spaces may actually put the brain into a meditative state, according to a 2013 UK study. The act of walking in a peaceful outdoor landscape was found to trigger "involuntary attention," meaning that it holds attention while also allowing for reflection.
They turn daily tasks into mindful moments.
Mindfulness isn't just something you practice during a 10-minute morning meditation session. It can be incorporated throughout your everyday life by simply paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you're performing them.
As the meditation app Headspace puts it:
"Mindfulness starts to get really interesting when we can start to integrate it into everyday life. Remember, mindfulness means to be present, in the moment. And if you can do it sitting on a chair, then why not while out shopping, drinking a cup of tea, eating your food, holding the baby, working at the computer or having a chat with a friend? All of these are opportunities to apply mindfulness, to be aware."
They create.
artist painting

Mindfulness and creativity go hand-in-hand: Mindfulness practice boosts creative thinking, while engaging, challenging creative work can get you into a flow state of heightened awareness and consciousness.
Many great artists, thinkers, writers and other creative workers -- from David Lynch to Mario Batali to Sandra Oh -- have said that meditation helps them to access their most creative state of mind. In Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity, Lynch compares ideas to fish: "If you want to catch a little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you've got to go deeper."
If you want to become more mindful but are struggling with a silent meditation practice, try engaging in your favorite creative practice, whether it's baking, doodling, or singing in the shower, and see how your thoughts quiet down as you get into a state of flow.
They pay attention to their breathing.
Our breath is a barometer for our overall physical and mental state -- and it's also the foundation of mindfulness. As mindful people know, calming the breath is the key to calming the mind.
Meditation master Thich Nhat Hahn describes the most foundational and most effective mindfulness practice, mindful breathing, in Shambhala Sun:
"So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath."
They unitask.
women at work

Multitasking is the enemy of focus -- many of us spend our days in a state of divided attention and near-constant multitasking, and it keeps us from truly living in the present. Studies have found that when people are interrupted and dividing their attention, it takes them 50 percent longer to accomplish a task and they're 50 percent more likely to make errors.
"Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed attention," Real Happiness at Work author Sharon Salzberg writes in a Huffington Post blog. "Debunking the myth of multitasking, we become much better at what we do and increase the chance of being able to remember the details of work we have done in the past."
The mindful way, Salzberg suggests, is to focus on one task completely for a given period of time, and then take a break before continuing or moving on to another task.
They know when NOT to check their phones.
Mindful people have a healthy relationship with their mobile devices -- they set (and keep) specific parameters for usage. This might mean making a point never to start or end the day checking email (and maybe even keeping their smartphones in a separate room while they're sleeping), or choosing to unplug on Saturdays or every time they go on vacation.
But most importantly, they stow their phones away while spending time with their loved ones. One unfortunate byproduct of tech addition and too much screen time is that it keeps us from truly connecting with others -- as HopeLab CEO Pat Christen described her own aha moment, "I realized several years ago that I had stopped looking in my children's eyes. And it was shocking to me."
Those who mindfully interact with others look up from their screens and into the eyes of whomever they're interacting with, and in doing so, develop and maintain stronger connections in all their relationships.
They seek out new experiences.
Openness to experience is a byproduct of living mindfully, as those who prioritize presence and peace of mind tend to enjoy taking in and savoring moments of wonder and simple joy. New experiences, in turn, can help us to become more mindful.
"[Adventure] can naturally teach us to be here now. Really, really here," adventurer Renee Sharp writes in Mindful Magazine. "To awaken to our senses. To embrace both our pleasant and our difficult emotions. To step into the unknown. To find the balance between holding on and letting go. And learn how to smile even when the currents of fear are churning within."
They get outside.
national park yosemite

Spending time in nature is one of the most powerful ways of giving yourself a mental reboot and reinstating a sense of ease and wonder. Research has found that being outdoors can relieve stress, while also improving energy levels, memory and attention.
“We need the tonic of wildness," Thoreau wrote in Walden. "At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
They feel what they're feeling.
Mindfulness isn't about being happy all the time. It's about acceptance of the moment we're in and feeling whatever we feel without trying to resist or control it.
Excessive preoccupation with happiness can actually be counterproductive, leading to an unhealthy attitude towards negative emotions and experiences. Mindful people don't try to avoid negative emotions or always look on the bright side -- rather, accepting both positive and negative emotions and letting different feelings coexist is a key component of remaining even-keeled and coping with life's challenges in a mindful way.
Meditation, the quintessential mindfulness practice, has been shown to be a highly effective intervention for managing emotional challenges including anxiety, depression and stress. A 2013 study also found that people with mindful personalities enjoy greater emotional stability and improved sleep quality.
As Mother Teresa put it, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
They meditate.
meditation

You can be mindful without meditating, but all the research and experts tell us that meditation is the most sure-fire way to become more mindful. A regular practice can help to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and boost well-being. Research has found that mindfulness meditation can even alter gene expression, lowering the body's inflammatory response.
Aside from the wealth of research on the physical and mental health benefits of meditation, the testimonies of countless meditators attests to the fact that a consistent practice can help you stay awake and present to your own life.
“It’s almost like a reboot for your brain and your soul,” Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, told the New York Times in 2012 of making the time to meditate and unplug. “It makes me so much calmer when I’m responding to e-mails later.”
They're conscious of what they put in their bodies -- and their minds.
So often, we shovel food into our mouths without paying any attention to what we're eating and whether we feel full. Mindful people make a practice of listening to their bodies -- and they consciously nourish themselves with healthy foods, prepared and eaten with care. But mindful eating is all about taking your time, paying attention to the tastes and sensations, focus fully on the act of eating and eating-related decisions.
Mindful people also pay attention to their media diets, are equally careful not to feed their minds with "junk food" like excess television, social media, mindless gaming and other psychological empty calories. (Too much time on the Internet has been linked with fewer hours of sleep per night and an increased risk of depression.
They remember not to take themselves so seriously.
laughter

As Arianna Huffington writes in Thrive, "Angels fly because they take themselves lightly." A critical factor in cultivating a mindful personality is refusing to get wrapped up and carried away by the constant tug of the emotions. If you can remember to laugh and keep an even keep through the ups and downs, then you've come a long way already in mastering the art of mindfulness.
Much of our distraction is internal -- we ruminate, worry and dwell on our problems. But those who are able to maintain a sense of humor about their own troubles are able to better cope with them. Research from the University of California Berkeley and University of Zurich found that the ability to laugh at oneself is associated with elevated mood, cheerful personality, and a sense of humor.
Laughing also brings us into the present moment in a mindful way. Joyful laughter and meditation even look similar in the brain, according to a new study from Loma Linda University.
They let their minds wander.
daydreaming

While mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment, mind-wandering also serves an important psychological function, and conscientious people are able to find the happy medium between these two ways of thinking. It’s smart to question whether we should always be living in the moment. The latest research on imagination and creativity shows that if we're always in the moment, we're going to miss out on important connections between our own inner mind-wandering thoughts and the outside world.
Engaging in imaginative thinking and fantasizing may even make us more mindful. Research has found that those whose daydreams are most positive and most specific also score high in mindfulness. 


 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

9 Inspirational Quotes On Compassion


 

We are more than individuals. We are intricately tied to one another, and when we treat each person we meet with kindness, it is our own hearts we are helping to grow. Here are nine inspired thoughts from different teachers on the power of compassion to heal and strengthen the bonds we share.

1. Compassion is always, always a choice we can make.
The heart is like a garden; it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?  – Jack Kornfield

2. Compassion benefits not just other people, but ourselves as well.
There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. – John Holmes

3. Compassion in its most effective form begins with the self.
We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets. – Dalai Lama

4. Compassion brings out qualities we didn’t know we had.
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

5. Compassion means fully embracing the person that you are.
To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. – Thich Nhat Hanh

6. Compassion is a ripple that radiates outward.
Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle to others. – Lama Yeshe

7. Compassion is a key to unlocking our future potential.
We choose our destiny in the way we treat others. – Unknown

8. Compassion is the only gift you can give at all times and places.
Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention. – Jim Rohn

9. Compassion heals what can be healed in no other way.
Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion. – Buddha


14 Mantras for Mindful Living


by Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD

Mindfulness is a state of being. Mindfulness can be described in two simple words: pay attention. By paying attention, we are present in the current moment. Often the biggest challenge is, how can we carry this state of mindfulness into our daily lives? Mindfulness is a part of mindful living. One way to train our minds to a positive state of thinking is with the use of mindful mantras.

Mantra is an ancient Sanskrit term. It is a word or phrase repeated to help in meditation. In modern day use, the term mantra has also come to be known as a phrase or truism that is repeated often. I use these mindful mantras as affirmations or prescriptions for the soul. It is a method for me to carry that feeling of inner peace from my meditation mat into my daily life.

Self-Compassion: Self Care Is Not Selfish
Mantra for self-compassion: Self care is not selfish. When we don't fill our own vessel, we give from a place of empty. When we give from a place of empty, we don't give of our best self. True acts of self care involve nurturing the heart and soul with activities that bring you sustained joy.

Compassion Towards Others: Share a Smile
Mantra for compassion towards others: I share a smile. How can we show compassion for others? Share a smile, a warm embrace, or a kiss with a loved one. With human touch, a powerful hormone oxytocin is released which will elevate the mood and reduce stress hormones in our brains and body.

In Giving Forgiveness, I Am Healed
Mantra for forgiveness: In giving forgiveness, I am healed. If we cannot forgive ourselves or another, we fuel negative emotions such as anger and resentment. Once we make a choice to forgive, our mind, heart, and soul is open for healing and love.

Disconnect to Reconnect
Mantra to reconnect: I disconnect to reconnect. Our digital devices can be a source of constant distractions and create an inability to focus. Make a commitment to power off for a minimum of 20 minutes daily in order to refocus, reconnect, and re-energize.

Attitude of Gratitude
Mantra for gratitude: I choose an attitude of gratitude. When we focus on the blessings in our life, our minds tune into a positive frequency attracting more blessings. Grateful people live happier and healthier lives.

Gracious Listening
Mantra for listening: I practice gracious listening. To be truly present for another human being, just listen. Gracious listening is the ability to be present and listen without having judgment. Gracious listening is also hearing what another has to say without trying to formulate a response in your own mind.

Connect to Joy
Mantra for happiness: I connect to joy. Happiness is transient when we look to external objects or circumstances for pleasure. To connect to inner joy, try to be present in the moment and take pleasure in the simple things in life.

Be One With Nature
Mantra to be present in the moment: I will be one with nature. When we feel like we can't slow down our hectic lives or our racing minds, stepping out into nature helps us to pause. When we are one with nature, we are one with ourselves. This is being present in the current moment.

Breathe
Mantra for mindfulness: breathe. How can we remember to be present and pay attention to the current moment? All we need to do is remember to breathe. Inhale deeply. Exhale deeply. Repeat.

Be Still
Mantra to quiet the chaos: I allow myself to be still. External distractions always have the possibility to throw us off balance. We can choose to be still. When we choose to be still, we can connect to inner peace despite the external chaos.

One Step In a New Direction
Mantra for moving forward: I take one step in a new direction. It is easy to feel overwhelmed if we want to make a change in our personal or professional lives. Instead of feeling fearful, stuck, or stagnant in a situation, ask yourself one question. What is one step you can take to move in a new direction?

How Can I Be of Service?
Mantra to create a difference: how can I be of service? We all want to spread good in the world. When you walk into a new situation, pause. Ask yourself, "How can I truly be of help or service?" Through a small action, we can make a big difference in another person's life.

Take a Leap of Faith
Mantra to overcome fear: I take a leap of faith. Let go of your fear and hold on to your dreams. This is how we can take that leap of faith.

Flow From a Place of Grace
Mantra for ease: I flow from a place of grace. It is difficult to be in the moment when we are worried about an outcome of a situation. If we allow life to unfold with trust that everything is occurring in perfect timing, we can then flow from a place of grace.



Friday, June 27, 2014

Integrating Mindfulness Into Everyday Life


Mindfulness starts to get really interesting when we can start to integrate it into everyday life. Remember, mindfulness means to be present, in the moment. And if you can do it sitting on a chair, then why not while out shopping, drinking a cup of tea, eating your food, holding the baby, working at the computer or having a chat with a friend? All of these are opportunities to apply mindfulness, to be aware.

This means that rather than drifting through the day on auto-pilot, not really being fully conscious of the decisions you make, you move from one moment to the next with a sense of calm and clarity in the mind. Researchers have found that most people are caught up in thought for between 30 percent and 50 percent of the time, even while engaged in activities. They also discovered this mind wandering was a direct cause of unhappiness and confusion.
So why not let this is be one more reason to integrate mindfulness into your life?
The mindfulness experts at Headspace describe five situations to which you could easily apply mindfulness on a daily basis. Typically, these are the kind of events where your mind is wandering -- but it doesn't have to be this way. This isn't about trying to stop thoughts and feelings, but instead learning to step back from them, allowing them to come and go. And if you do find yourself suddenly lost in thought, then no problem at all, simply bring your attention back to the physical senses and whatever it is you’re doing.
1. Mindfulness While Brushing Your Teeth

brushing teeth

The Old Way:
Vague awareness of picking up your toothbrush and moving it around the mouth on autopilot, as you wander around the house, tripping over the cat, looking for your keys, mentally preparing for your first meeting of the day, while wondering who’ll play James Bond after Daniel Craig.

The New Way: Being mindful of the feet on the floor, the temperature and the texture on the soles of your feet; mindful of the appearance, smell, flavor and texture of the toothpaste; mindful of the arm moving from side to side and the sound of the brush against your teeth; mindful of each and every tooth and the sensation of the brush against the gums.

Bonus: Not only will you feel calm and collected afterward, your dentist will be happy with you, too!
2. Mindfulness While Taking A Shower

shower

The Old Way:
Acute awareness of scolding hot water alternating with freezing cold water until you find the sweet spot. From there, the mind wanders off to the eternal question of ‘What would it be like to win The X Factor?’ as you sing your favorite tune into the shower-head.

The New Way: Being mindful of the need to set the temperature before getting into the shower; mindful of the wave of pleasure as the warm water washes over you; mindful of the smell of the shower gel, soap or shampoo; mindful of the mind jumping forward, imagining conversations that have yet to happen; mindful of the amount of water you’re using; and mindful of the sound of the water coming to a stop.

Bonus: Greenpeace will love you for it, and you’ll end up with a much clearer mind for the day ahead.
3. Mindfulness While Commuting To Work

commute

The Old Way:
Standing like a sardine squashed into a tin can on a train or bus, resenting anyone who has a seat, feeling nauseous at the potent cocktail of perfumes, aftershaves, deodorants and hairsprays, while trying to keep your cool as a stroller rocks back and forth into your shins. Alternatively, sitting in the relative comfort of a car, but in traffic so slow that you fear you might actually have to put the car into reverse.

The New Way: Being mindful of your environment and the tendency to resist it; being mindful of the emotions as they rise and fall, come and go; mindful of all the different senses, but rather than thinking about them, judging them, or analyzing them, simply acknowledging them; mindful of wanting to be somewhere else, of wishing time away; and mindful of wanting to scream out loud or put your foot down in the car.

Bonus: The other people around you will almost certainly appreciate your lack of road-rage, train-rage or bus-rage and, you never know, you may even find yourself turning up to work with a smile on your face.
4. Mindfulness While Washing The Dishes

washing dishes

The Old Way: Vaguely aware of the need to avoid the sharp knife, hidden beneath the plates in the water, as you stare out of the window and wonder why Mrs. green coat with the brown shoes from number 48 doesn’t get together with Mr. square jaw with the fancy car from number 32. They’re both single, and they look as though they’d be perfect together.

The New Way: Being mindful of the very first moment when your hands meet the water; mindful of the warmth and the transference of heat to the body; mindful of picking up one thing at a time and taking just an extra second or two to clean it thoroughly; mindful of the passing thoughts and of letting them go; mindful of seeing people come and go through the window without getting involved in any storylines; mindful of wanting to get on and do something else; and mindful of feeling satisfied when you’ve finished.

Bonus:OK, so you have a dishwasher, but you get the picture. And if the dishwasher ever breaks down, you’ll know that it is possible to get some headspace while washing the dishes.
5. Mindfulness While Waiting In Line

queue

The Old Way:
As you stand there tapping your foot, arms crossed and jaws clenched, you wonder why everyone else has chosen the exact same time as you to come to the bank. As you flick through old texts and emails on your cell, desperately searching for something, anything, to do to escape your own impatience, you consider the possibility of robbing the place one day (hypothetically of course), absentmindedly looking to see where the different cameras are and, thereby, getting your picture saved to yet another database in the sky.

The New Way: Being mindful of the sense of urgency with which you enter the bank; mindful of your reaction when you first see the line; mindful of your posture as you stand there waiting; mindful of your breath as you focus on the physical sensations in the body; mindful of your reaction each time the line creeps forward; mindful of the tendency to keep looking at your watch, checking your phone or looking for some kind of distraction; and mindful of your interaction with another human being when you finally get served.

Bonus: You can see the queue as an irritating inconvenience, or as an opportunity to take a break. Either way, you know you’re not really going to rob the bank, so why are you even looking?

Want more tips on how to make meditation part of your day? Headspace is meditation made simple, accessible and relevant to your everyday life. Sign up for the free Take10 program to get the basics just right with guided audio programs and support to get your Headspace, anytime, anywhere on the Headspace app.
For more on mindfulness, click here.

Source: 




Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Changing Your Breathing Can Change Your Life


The best way to calm down is so innate to our lives, we often take it for granted: Taking a breath. Focusing on your own breathing can have a significant impact on your well-being and stress levels, and can even create physiological changes like lowering your blood pressure. But for many of us, when it comes to improving our health, changing our breathing somehow doesn’t spring to mind as readily as changing our diet or exercise habits.
"We take our breath for granted the way we take our heart beat for granted," Carla Ardito, a breathing expert at Manhattan's Integral Yoga Institute and creator of the Breathing Lessons app, told The Huffington Post. "The difference is we can work on our breathing."
And there’s plenty of precedent. For thousands of years, the yogic practice of pranayama (Sanskrit for "extension of the life-force") has been used as a method geared towards reducing stress and healing the body and mind through targeted breathing exercises.
Check out the infographic below for seven health benefits of focusing on your breathing.

Infographic by Jan Diehm for the Huffington Post. 


http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/52/aa/f7/52aaf7f25379ff676202c0dbef2c6c9f.jpg


Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/09/breathing-health_n_3696302.html

Friday, June 13, 2014

Settling Back Into The Moment: A Meditator's Inspirational Guide

A selection of verses from the book 'The Experience of Insight' by Joseph Goldstein. A simple and joyful guide for introducing the meaning of meditation and the peace of mind. 



Thursday, June 5, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mindful Speaking

by Sally Kempton

You can change the world, or at least your experience of it, by becoming conscious of the words coming out of your mouth. 

..."The power of words isn't lost on anyone—just think of the pleasure you feel when someone pays you a sincere compliment, or the discomfort of realizing you've spilled a secret you'd promised to keep. Words and the energy they carry make or break friendships and careers; they define us as individuals and even as cultures. We know this, and yet we often let our words flow out more or less unmediated, like random pebbles tossed into a lake. Sometimes, it's only when the ripples spread and cause waves, and the waves rush back and splash us, that we stop to think about the way we speak.

The sages of yoga obviously understood the human tendency to run off at the mouth, because many texts of the inner life, from the Upanishads and the Yoga Vasistha to the Bhagavad Gita, counsel us to use words carefully. The Buddha made right speech one of the pillars of his Noble Eightfold Path. On the simplest level, these sages point out, unnecessary speaking wastes energy that could be devoted to self-inquiry and transformative action. More important, though, is the power that words have to change the communal atmosphere, to cause joy or pain, and to create a climate that fosters truth or falsity, kindness or cruelty.
Of course, in an era where unsubstantiated rumors roll endlessly through the blogosphere, where lying and concealment and spin are so much a part of public utterance that words have lost their meaning and most of us automatically suspect anything a public figure says, the very idea of right speech can sound countercultural. And yet, as with so many of the yogic dicta, it makes profound sense. So much of the pain we cause ourselves and each other could be avoided if we were just a bit more discriminating about what we say. Our relationships, our work environment, even our feelings about ourselves, can be transformed simply by taking time to think about how words create reality. Yes, words create reality. That's an understanding you'll find in most of the great wisdom traditions, but especially the Vedic and Tantric traditions of India and in the texts of Kabbalah, with which they have so much in common.
The bottom line of the Tantric teaching on words is this: Since everything in existence, including rocks and planets, is made out of different densities of vibration—that is, out of coagulated sound—words are not merely signifiers, but actual powers. The strongest transformative energies are locked into those special words called mantras, which when empowered and properly pronounced, can change the course of a life. But ordinary, mundane words also hold their own vibratory force. All speech, especially speech imbued with strong feeling or emotion, creates waves of energy that radiate through our bodies and into the world, vibrating with complementary word streams and helping to create the atmosphere we live in.
Our bodies and subconscious minds hold the residue of every kind or cruel word we've ever taken in. So does the very air and soil. When you feel a particular vibe in a room, chances are that what you notice is the energetic residue of the words that have been spoken there. Words—whether spoken or thought—are constantly altering reality, shifting the vibratory atmosphere in our bodies, in our homes and places of work, in our cities. So the choices we make about what to say and not say are not just of casual importance.

Where Words Come From

To practice right speech is essentially to approach speaking as a form of yoga. The first stage in the yoga of speech is to start becoming conscious of what comes out of your mouth. You might begin by spending a day eavesdropping on yourself—ideally, without activating your inner critic. Try to notice not just what you say but also the tone with which you say it. See if you can sense the emotional residue your words create. How do you feel after certain remarks? How do other people react?

The second step in speech yoga is a form of self-inquiry, in which you ask yourself: What makes me say what I say? What unexpressed anger or grief or longing might lie frozen in my emotional body, ready to surface as lies or sarcastic remarks or words meant to mask what I really want to say? How do my words affect people?

Asking these questions may make you aware of some of the buried emotional issues that lie behind your speech patterns, especially when you hear yourself whining or speaking harshly or filling up the air with chatter. Owning and healing those issues is going to be essential, because trying to speak from an authentic state of higher awareness without having done that healing is like building your house on a swamp. The underground water will eventually flood your basement, and your disowned pain will inevitably leak out through your words.

Ideally, you'll be doing the emotional healing work you need, whether it is through some sort of therapy or energy healing, while simultaneously working with the powerful yogic practices that can help shift your speech patterns.

One such yogic practice is mantra repetition, the turning over of a sacred sound, like Om, in your mind. Mantric sounds in Sanskrit, Hebrew, or Arabic—the three most vibrationally powerful ancient languages—can recalibrate the energy in your physical and subtle bodies and create an inner atmosphere that gives your words new clarity and power.

As our energy becomes more refined, we become more sensitive to the resonance of our own words. We can choose our words more carefully, without feeling that we are constantly quashing our spontaneity or expressiveness.
 
Speak Easy

As a person with a tendency toward impulsive speech, I've often found it helpful to use an inner protocol that helps me determine whether the remark I'm about to make would be better left unsaid. A teacher of mine once remarked that before you speak, it's a good idea to ask yourself three questions:
Is this true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?

She called these questions the three gates of speech; versions of them can be found in many contemporary Buddhist and Hindu teachings. Remembering to ask them will at least give you pause, and that pause can be enough to hold back torrents of trouble.

Is what I'm about to say true?

One thing I like about these questions is that they open up a big space for contemplation. For example, does "true" mean only what is literally true? You know you're lying (hopefully!) when you willfully distort or deny facts. But what about slight exaggerations? If you leave out part of the story, is it still true? And where does opinion fit in? What is the "truth" about your friend's boyfriend, whom she sees as smart and interesting and you see as pretentious and arrogant? In sorting out truth from partial truth, lies or distortions, how do you account for personal perspective, which can alter our view of objective events to the point where two people can see one scene in radically different ways?
Over time, you'll want to sort all this out for yourself. But in the short term, asking yourself "Is this true?" is a good way to become aware of certain dicey verbal tendencies—the slight exaggerations, unsupported assertions, and self-justifications that burble out of your mouth. Personally, I give myself a pass on storytelling. But when I catch myself saying in a tone of authority, "Patanjali never would have said that!" I've learned to ask myself, "Do I know that for sure?" Often, I'm forced to admit that I don't.

Is It Kind?

It may seem obvious that some remarks are kind and some are not. But what happens when kindness seems at odds with the truth? Are there certain truths that should not be spoken—even kindly—because they are simply too crushing? Or is it a form of cowardice to suppress a truth that you know will cause pain? What if your words could destroy a friendship, unmake a marriage, or ruin a life—do you speak them?

Is It Necessary?

"I've had words literally stick in my throat," a friend once told me, explaining why he had come to the conclusion that, when he's confronted with the conflict between kindness and truth, the best choice is simply to remain silent. But sometimes we must speak out even when we dread the consequences. It's obviously necessary—if we want to prevent wrongdoing—for an employee to let the boss know that the accountant is fudging the books, even if the accountant is a close friend. It's necessary at some point for a doctor to tell a terminally ill patient that she's likely to die soon. It's necessary to let your lover know that you're unhappy with him before your unhappiness gets to the point where you're ready to pack your bags. But is it necessary to tell your friend that you saw his girlfriend with another guy? Or to join in the daily office discussions of the latest management screw-ups?

A few years ago, a young woman I'll call Greta spoke to me after a workshop. In her early teens, her father had sexually abused her. She'd been working with a therapist, and she'd decided that as part of her healing she needed to confront her father and also tell her sisters about it. She knew that this would shatter her very traditional family, humiliate her father, and perhaps not give her the satisfaction she wanted. She worried deeply about whether she was doing the right thing.

I suggested that Greta ask herself the three questions. To the first question "Is this true?" she had an unequivocal yes. She disposed of the "Is it kind?" question quickly and fiercely, believing that what she was about to do was a form of tough love. It was the third question, "Is this necessary?" that brought up her doubts.

Greta decided that speaking up was necessary, particularly because her sisters were still living at home. The effect on her family has been just as difficult and painful as she had feared; nonetheless, she believes she made the right decision. In this kind of process, we make decisions based on the best criteria we have. The consequences, intended or not, are not always in our hands.

I like to use these questions not as mechanisms for censorship but as reminders, as invitations to speak from the highest level of consciousness I'm capable of at any given moment. We all carry inside us multiple impulses, and we are all capable of operating from many layers of ourselves—from shadowy parts as well as from noble intentions and feelings.

But the magic of words is that they can, in and of themselves, transform our consciousness. Words and thoughts that vibrate at a higher level of resonance can change our inner state as well, and they certainly have an effect on the environment around us.

Speech Recognition

Kathy, who is just beginning to practice the yoga of speech, teaches at a community college that just went through budget cuts. Many teachers lost their jobs and the rest were scared and angry. So they started talking, sometimes for hours, about how the spirit of the department had been lost. The depth of their feelings powered their words, and often Kathy couldn't sleep after one of these conversations.
One day, she said, she realized all this commiseration was creating a miasma of bad feeling that actually hurt her heart. So she asked herself, "What should I do to raise the vibration here?" Her solution was straight out of the yogic tradition: cleansing her mind with mantra. Mantra, sometimes defined as a word that liberates the one who repeats it, is considered the purest form of speech, and certain mantras can provide an instant connection to higher levels of reality. The mantra Kathy uses, Om Namah Shivaya ("Salutations to the highest consciousness") is considered especially powerful for purifying the mind and speech. Kathy told me that after turning it over in her mind for 20 minutes she would find that her stream of consciousness had sweetened.

As her mind felt clearer, her emotions cooled and she could resist unloading her frustration at every opportunity. She suggested to her colleagues that they reframe the way they talked about work. As Kathy told me, complaining is a hard habit to break. "Negativity is one of the ways we bond," she mused. "My friends are the people I can complain to, or be critical with, as opposed to being in public, where I have to be nice." Yet, as Kathy found, we generate a lot of power when we speak from the highest level of awareness. "I decided that whenever I started to complain, I'd get quiet, and take my attention to my heart. Then I'd wait to see what words arose from that silent place. Nearly always, it was something unexpected—even something wise."

Kathy discovered an important clue about where empowered speech comes from. Not from a quick tongue or a chatty mind. Speech that can change and inspire us, speech that resonates from our highest Self, comes out of our contact with the silent place behind words, the place we reach when we're able to pause, turn into the heart, and let the stillness speak through our words. Speech that comes out of stillness is speech that comes, quite literally, from the source of wisdom itself.




Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mindful Eating - The Five Contemplations


These are the Five Contemplations by Thich Nhat Hanh, which are said before meals. The practice of reciting these contemplations before eating is a way to foster mindful eating, and helps to promote inner peace through food.
  1. This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
  2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
  3. May we recognise and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation
  4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
  5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
Source: Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Chueng
More Reading:  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Practice eating mindfully


I know, I know -- you're thinking this happiness tip is pretty bogus. I mean, who doesn't feel happier when they eat? Am I really advocating food-as-joy? 

Maybe: It's all in how food is consumed. How often do you eat breakfast standing up or in the car? Do you eat lunch in front of your computer, at your desk, or buried behind a book? How often do you just eat, without also doing something else? 

In the wild (or, say, kindergarten), we mammals naturally take breaks to refuel with a snack or a meal. Don't squander this natural rest period by wolfing down your lunch while you read your email, or by sipping a latte while driving to work and calling that breakfast. Practice eating mindfully, paying attention to your food and the people you are with. Notice what you are eating and how quickly or slowly. Breathe. Relax. You will feel more calm and content. 

Take Action: If you rarely just eat without also doing something else, start small. Perhaps commit to savoring your food for the first 5 bites, or maybe 5 minutes of every meal. Or to eating one lunch a week by yourself, not at your desk, with no distractions.
May you be happy,

CC signature
 Christine Carter, PhD