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Mindfulness Meditation

Wisdom and Delight

Our mindfulness practice opens up a world of possibilities. Sitting, listening, noticing, not judging; always receptive, never rejecting anything, endlessly curious as to our own experiencing. And what a world our inner being presents to us! Fleeting yet seeming to be solid and permanent, always a new thought and a new drive, yet coming back to the breath, mind and body feels like a homecoming to something old each time.

Wisdom and delight can be found in so many places. Having grandchildren has introduced me once again to the wisdom and delight of the very young child. It has been a joy to become reacquainted to that wise old sage, Winnie the Pooh. Today I offer to you a few wise quotes from Winnie and friends in the Hundred Acre Wood:

On Meditation:

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

On Love:

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”

“Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more… to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

On Your Self Worth and Dignity:

“The things that make me different are the things that make me me.”

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”

And on how to be patient with the other guy!

“If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in this ear.”

Today’s meditation is a modified body scan. I hope it helps you to reestablish the delight that is available to us each moment of every day.

Today’s Video:


Today’s Audio:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

The Science of Stress

From the materials furnished to me years ago from the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness, as part of the teacher training I received in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction:

WHAT IS STRESS?

“Stress is the nonspecific response of the organism to any pressure or demand. A Stressor is any stimulus, whether in the external or internal environment, that produces the body’s stress response. For example: An overwhelming stress response (caused by prolonged starvation, worry, fatigue, or cold) can break down the body’s protective mechanisms. This is true both of adaptation which depends on chemical immunity and of that due to inflammatory barricades. It is for this reason that so many maladies tend to become rampant during wars and famines. If a microbe is in or around us all the time and yet causes no disease until we are exposed to a stress, what is the “cause” of our illness, the microbe or the stress? I think both are – and equally so. In most instances, disease is due neither to the germ as such, nor to our adaptive reactions as such, but to the inadequacy of our reactions against the germ.”

– Dr. Hans Selye

Exposure to Stressors → Stress Response (release of Cortisol)

Stress Response = ↑ Blood Pressure, ↑ Respiration Rate, ↑ Muscular Tensing, ↑ “Voiding” Response (bowels & bladder), ↓ Sleep, ↓ Gastrointestinal Activity, ↓ Immune System Activity, ↓ Libido.

Chronic exposure to stressors leads to the mind, sympathetic nervous system, and the neuroendocrine system engaging in a feedback loop, initiating a body/mind state of chronic stress:

Chronic Hyper-vigilance (Cognitive) → Chronic Cortisol Release (Neuroendocrine System)

Chronic Cortisol Release → Chronic Bodily Responsiveness (Sympathetic Nervous System)

Chronic Bodily Responsiveness (Sympathetic Nervous System) → Chronic Hyper-vigilance (Cognitive)……

Over a period of time chronic stress, initiated by a chronic stressor, can take on a life of its own as the mind stays in a state of hyper-vigilance, causing the body to go into a stressful state even when the chronic stressor is no longer present.

We often try to escape this stress cycle by trying to think our way out of it. This usually fails, absent doing the work of bringing the body back to a relaxed state. Today’s meditation is a hybrid of the classic body scan and a technique called Progressive Muscular Relaxation. The intention is to teach a tool that can be used to help us recognize when the body is being held with stressful tension, and having an easily applied antidote to relax the body and the mind.

Video of today’s meditation:

Audio of today’s meditation:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Finding More Light

Can finding contentment be so simple: find more light every day. Without light there is no life, at least not life as we know it. Light warms and energizes ourselves, our planet. If “to love” is to hold dear, to cherish, to nourish and care for, then perhaps light is the most primal manifestation of “loving” that we experience.

Our practice of mindfulness is quite simple, in a way. We learn to notice what is happening in this present moment, and we notice it openly, honestly, authentically, and, most important, without judgment. To be mindful is to be receptive. Looked at from a different perspective, to be mindful is to form the intention to love life as we experience it, moment to moment.

What could be simpler than to notice the light, both literally and figuratively, that surrounds us every day? And in doing so mindfully, we love the light in return; love after love.

Today’s meditation includes some brief quotes:

Excerpt from The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade.

We’ve braved the belly of the beast

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace

And the norms and notions

of what just is

Isn’t always just-ice

Excerpt from Lights in the Windows by Naomi Shihab Nye

Years ago a girl handed me a note as I was leaving her proud town of Albany, Texas, a tiny, lovely place far in the west of our big state.”I’m glad to know there is another poemist in the world,” the note said. “I always knew we would find one another someday and our lights would cross.”

Our lights would cross. That girl had not stood out to me, I realized, among the other upturned, interested faces in the classroom. How many other lights had I missed? I carried her smudged note for thousands of miles.

To me the world of poetry is a house with thousands of glittering windows. Our words and images, land to land, era to era, shed light on one another. Our words dissolve the shadows we imagine fall between.

Video of the guided meditation:

Audio of the guided meditation:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Heading to the Light

Whether we choose to head toward the light or the darkness, the light always moves with us.  Light never stops; never loses faith that we will turn and embrace it, even when we choose to embrace the dark and turn away.

What are you doing with your one, true life?  You can choose to embrace the light, the love, that is waiting for you, the light that is always willing to hold you in its warm embrace.

Here’s one way to embrace the light. On February 1st, 2021 in northern Delaware there were 10 hours, 12 minutes, and 26 seconds of daylight.  Today, February 2nd, there will be 10 hours, fourteen minutes and 34 seconds, over two more minutes of light.  By February 28 there will be 11 hours, 17 minutes and 7 seconds.  If you form the intention, you can choose to notice this daily delivery of additional light into our lives! Have Hope!!

Thinking more about the light, I’d like to turn to Barry Lopez’s wonderful book “Arctic Dreams.” After meditating on the light in the Arctic, which is a special and unique light, and comparing it to the light in the great cathedrals of Europe, a light which seems to see into infinity, Mr. Lopez wrote: “There is a word from the time of the cathedrals: agape, an expression of intense spiritual affinity with the mystery that is ‘to be sharing life with other life.’ Agape is love, and it can mean ‘the love of another for the sake of God.’ More broadly and essentially, it is a humble, impassioned embrace of something outside the self, in the name of that which we refer to as God, but which also includes the self and is God. We are clearly indebted as a species to the play of our intelligence; we trust our future to it; but we do not know whether intelligence is reason or whether intelligence is this desire to embrace and be embraced in the pattern that both theologians and physicists call God. Whether intelligence, in other words, is love.”

During the meditation I read an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “Poppies.” Once again, we consider the light in our lives:

But I also say this: that light

is an invitation

to happiness,

and that happiness,

when it’s done right,

is a kind of holiness,

palpable and redemptive.

Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,

I am washed and washed

in the river

of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—

what can you do

about it—

deep, blue night?

Video of the Guided Meditation:

Audio of the Guided Meditation:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

The Beauty of this World, this Moment

We live in difficult times, but times made difficult by the machinations of people.  Greed, hatred, and ignorance drive us to living in delusion, always wanting more, or at least something other than what we already have.  Take the time to stop and notice the actual world, still present despite the suffering we create on our own. Grasp the beauty and wonder of nature, and the solace and healing of love. Do not do so to escape the present turmoil, but to renew your faith that this is a world worth saving.

Today’s quotes are from Barry Lopez’s book “Arctic Dreams.” Mr. Lopez died on Christmas Day, 2020. His book is a reflection formed while visiting the Arctic regions. It is at once a lesson in history, archeology, anthropology, and spirituality. It is a wonderment!

Today’s Quotes:

“Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land, however, no matter how profound or accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression—its weather and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know the land knows you are there.”

“Lying flat on your back on Ellesmere Island on rolling tundra without animals, without human trace, you can feel the silence stretching all the way to Asia.  The winter face of a muskox, its unperturbed eye glistening in a halo of snow-encrusted hair, looks at you over a cataract of time, an image that has endured through all the pulsations of ice. 

You can sit for a long time with the history of man like a stone in your hand.  The stillness, the pure light, encourage it.”

From “Arctic Dreams” by Barry Lopez

Video of today’s meditation:

Audio of today’s meditation:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness in a Time of Turmoil

Being mindful is not a passive state of observation and musing. Rather it is an active awareness, a commitment to connection, and an obligation for the one living mindfully to speak to the truth.  Now more than ever mindful people are needed to prophetic witness.

How do we respond to turmoil? To hatred, displayed publicly or in a private conversation? Paraphrasing Pema Chodron, we have to ask ourselves whether we prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or choose to live and die in fear.

Our mindfulness practices are not intended as an escape from the turmoil and suffering of the world. Rather, this practice prepares us to be ready to face these difficulties with equanimity, able to choose responses wisely.

It is not a time to retreat. We must confront hatred and suffering when and where they exist. But to do so with mindful curiosity, openness, acceptance, and maybe even compassion will help each of us to suffer a little less, and may even get the attention of someone steeped in hatred and suffering.

In today’s meditation I read this poem, which captures the feeling that I’m trying to get at. I hope you enjoy it.

Think Like a Tree

Soak up the sun

Affirm life’s magic

Be graceful in the wind

Stand tall after a storm

Feel refreshed after it rains

Grow strong without notice

Be prepared for each season

Provide shelter to strangers

Hang tough through a cold spell

Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring

Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky

Be still long enough to

hear your own leaves rustling.

— Karen I. Shragg

Today’s video:

Today’s Audio:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

From Darkness to Light

Difficult year, 2020 has been. In the northern hemisphere it is the time of winter solstice. Darkness in the daytime cycle is dominant, but that is about to change. The planet is about to tilt its northern half back toward the sun, and the light will begin to dominate. It is a good time to be mindful. Recognizing that everything changes and nothing is permanent, once again learning to let go, we bid farewell to the darkness and realize the light. And as we do so, mindfully, we realize that all of living can be embraced and accepted, even the Difficult.

But what is Being Mindful?  Roger Keyes give us the gift of “seeing” life through the eyes of an elderly artist who has seen through shadows and disguises; who now simply “sees.”  At least that’s my interpretation. It’s a good poem, and I’ve chosen to read it as part of the meditation. Here it is, if you’d like to read it as well.

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient

every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —

shells, buildings, people, fish,

mountains, trees, wood is alive.

Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

or write books. It doesn’t matter

if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

— Roger Keyes

Video and audio of the meditation is below.

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Living in the World

In our last meeting we focused on staying present with our inner experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  This time of year is marked for most of us as a time of lower energy, maybe even lower mood resulting from the shortening of the daylight hours.  By staying present with our inner experiencing we can come to terms with it, learn how to work with it, and find contentment no matter the feelings.

In the same way our mindfulness practices call for us to stay present with the experiences around us, especially the experiences that flow from our way of being with all living beings, not just other people.  Today we focus on noticing how we affect the world around us.

How does my presence affect this person I have encountered? What is the impact of my smile? My frown? My way of being?

So often during the course of a normal day we do things that make the lives of other people a little bit better. Yet do we pay attention to this? Do we allow ourselves to have the pleasant feeling of having brought joy, peace, safety, or acceptance to another?

This is part of our self care. To not only have the intention to be an instrument of peace, but then to notice that peace, share in it, and find ourselves somewhat healed in the process.

Here are two poems by Naomi Shihab Nye that speak to us of noticing how we affect the world. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Famous

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   

which knew it would inherit the earth   

before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   

watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   

is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   

more famous than the dress shoe,   

which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   

who smile while crossing streets,   

sticky children in grocery lines,   

famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   

but because it never forgot what it could do.

— Naomi Shihab Nye

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.

With sadness there is something to rub against,

a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.

When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,

something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.

It doesn’t need you to hold it down.

It doesn’t need anything.

Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,

and disappears when it wants to.

You are happy either way.

Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house

and now live over a quarry of noise and dust

cannot make you unhappy.

Everything has a life of its own,

it too could wake up filled with possibilities

of coffee cake and ripe peaches,

and love even the floor which needs to be swept,

the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough

to contain so much happiness,

you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you

into everything you touch. You are not responsible.

You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit

for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,

and in that way, be known.

Naomi Shihab Nye

And here are recordings, video and audio, of a meditation session on this theme:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Staying Present

Back in May of this year I began a meditation with this question: “What kind of life are we called to have during the pandemic?” I noted that ” Zen Master Dogen tells us that ‘Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life.'”

I decided to reconsider this question in December to address an issue in addition to the pandemic. This is the time of year for Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD, which is felt by many people. SAD happens in degrees.  For some, it’s simply a time to be a little slower, more restful, perhaps put on a few pounds as the food we eat in the winter tends to be richer and the levels of exercise and activity tend to diminish. For others, it is a time of risk for cycling into a full blown depression. And for others there is very little if any change in mood or emotions.

As we continue to lose daylight every day, it is a time when we should be especially focused on self care. Whenever I’ve taught on the topic of self care with mental health professionals there is a response that is typical: “No, not another thing I have to do! All of this time I’ll be spending doing self care is stressing me out!” Well, that’s not I have in mind.

Self care is a moment to moment experience. It begins with being mindful in each moment of what is happening in my mind and body. Noticing the changes, the reactions, the feelings I’m having. Most of these changes are quite mundane, but occasionally one rises above the surface of awareness and demands more attention. With a mindfulness practice I’ve committed to noticing these arisings, not judging them, even if (especially if!) they’re unpleasant. Whatever change comes into my attention, I have to wonder if I can make space for it, be OK with it, see what exactly it is trying to tell me. In that way I can “own” the change, rather than it “owning” me. And still the change may be unpleasant, but somehow it seems less powerful.

Prior to today’s meditation I read an excerpt from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hahn, followed by the Zen night chant. Both provide food for thought about this idea of staying present in all moments. The opening paragraph, below, is paraphrased from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hahn.  The following paragraphs are quoted from the same work.

“After sharing dinner with his friend, the writer Jim Forest, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn rose to wash the dishes before the two of them would share an after-dinner cup of tea.  Jim, the polite guest, insisted on doing the dishes himself as an act of gratitude for the lovely dinner Nhat Hahn had just served.  Nhat Hahn replied: 

“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.  While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.  If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either…The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”

Jim replied, “I choose the second way — to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.””

And the Zen night chant:

Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your life.

— Zen Master Dogen

Here is the video of the meditation:

And here is the audio:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Forgiveness & Gratitude

In 1994 Tony Hicks, a 14 year old gang member whose mother was living on the streets and addicted to crack cocaine, shot and killed Tariq Khamisa, a 20 year old college student working to deliver pizzas, in a botched holdup.  Though he was a juvenile, he was sentenced as an adult to 25 years in prison.  The father of Tariq Khamisa, Azim Khamisa, visited Tony in prison and found that there were victims “on both sides of the gun.”  Choosing the path of being a forgiving person liberated Azim from a lifetime of anger and grief.  You can find his story at this link:

In this brief video Azim explains how powerful it can be to be a forgiving person:

On Thursday of this week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day to “count your blessings;” in a word, a day to feel gratitude. Yet I think it can be very difficult to experience the feeling of gratitude while carrying resentments toward people who have hurt us. Anger, hatred, even grief are strong impediments to feeling grateful. Our journey to gratitude may first require a journey to being forgiving. It’s a long journey, this being forgiving business, but just being on the journey may be a relief in and of itself.

If you have resentments and old angers that get in the way of your gratitude this week, consider forgiveness, keeping in mind that it’s a process, not a single-point decision. It takes time, and over the years old resentments you thought you had released will return, just less powerful, less of a preoccupation.

Today’s meditation is a stress reliever, focusing on simple massages of the facial sinuses and muscles. I find it helpful to have a relaxed body if I am to get to a more peaceful mind. Perhaps you will too. Here are the video and audio of today’s meeting.

And I decided to read a poem at the end of the meditation. Here is the text of that poem:

This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

Again on fresh pastures of promise,

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.

From “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings” by John O’Donohue,

Peace!

Jim