Mindfulness Meditation

Leaning in

There are times in any life that are very difficult. Perhaps we are struck with a dreadful illness, or chronically painful condition, or severe job/career loss, or overwhelming financial calamity, or societal injustice, violence, defeat. All of us face times of tremendous trial.

During these times of trial there is the inclination to escape. These times in our lives bring a chronic state of bodily stress, that can wear down the body, mind and spirit. We reach a point where we turn away from our difficulties and say “enough!” “I can’t take this anymore!”

In these times of trial I have seen many relationships fray around the edges, sometimes even deteriorating to the core. In our suffering we lose patience, and with it our capacity to express our love. The same is true for caregivers witnessing the suffering of a loved one. Anger, fear, shame and guilt, sadness. All of these emotions overwhelm, and quickly we can say and do hurtful and regretful things.

Our mindfulness practice teaches us a counterintuitive and somewhat paradoxical response to times of trial: leaning in. Rather than avoiding the difficult, the uncomfortable and unpleasant, the painful, we lean into these trials. In so doing we intend to form a new relationship with our suffering. Yes, it may sound unusual to put it that way, but you and I both have a relationship with our suffering (as well as with our joy!). This relationship with our suffering is one based on the attitude we choose to have with pain and difficulty. Often, as if on autopilot, our attitude toward our suffering is antagonistic. Noticing our suffering and our attitude, we can form the intention to bring acceptance, receptivity, and equanimity to our relationship with our suffering. And that can change everything!

Today’s meditation is a body scan. I can only speak for myself, but every time I do the body scan I inevitably come across parts of my body that are tense, uncomfortable, or painful. And that is where I get to practice “leaning in.” You can do that too! Using your breath as your anchor, your foundation, turn to those parts of your body that hurt in any way, and see what you can learn from them. You might be surprised what they have to teach you.

So here are some words of wisdom from Pema Chodron. Below that is a poem from Mary Oliver. It’s a very pleasant poem filled with very pleasant images. Sometimes we need a little food for the journey, especially when the journey is difficult.

When Things Fall Apart (Excerpt)

Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news.  But for practitioners or spiritual warriors, people who have a certain hunger to know what is true, feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we are holding back.

They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.  They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.  This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

Most of us do not take these situations as teachings.  We automatically hate therm.  We run like crazy.

We are use to all kinds of escaping — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it.

There are so many ways that have been dreamed up to entertain us away from the moment.

— Pema Chodron

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean – 

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down – 

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, 1992

Here is the video of today’s meditation:

Here is the audio of today’s meditation:



Mindfulness Meditation

Forget About Enlightenment

Oh the effort we put in to “changing our selves”! Think of the time and money wasted on New Year’s resolutions, magic diets, fad-fueled workout regimens, and miracle cures to problems that may not even be problems. We strive for our version of perfection, usually an illusion, usually another way to squander a perfectly fine day.

Yet at the same time we feel pulled toward something greater than our selves.  When we sit in meditation there are moments that feel serene, during which a sense of mental clarity absorbs us.  If we strive for these moments, they are elusive.  If we settle into our posture, into our breath, body, and mind with the intention to simply be present, receptive, and aware, then these moments may arise.  I am not sure exactly what is meant by the word “enlightenment” when used in the context of meditation and a spiritual point of view.  But if it means to “see more clearly” (i.e. with greater mental light) and to feel less of a burden in life (i.e. to have our mental load “lightened”), then perhaps enlightenment is a momentary awareness, a guest dropping into the guest house of our mind.  And perhaps just the memory that this guest is always invited and always welcome can make each day feel even more full and alive.

Here are two poems I really like, and which I used in today’s guided meditation:

Forget About Enlightenment

Sit down wherever you are

And listen to the wind singing in your veins.

Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.

Open your heart to who you are, right now,

Not who you would like to be,

Not the saint you are striving to become,

But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.

All of you is holy.

You are already more and less

Than whatever you can know.

Breathe out,

Touch in,

Let go.

By: John Welwood


No car must splash him.

No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo

but he’s not marked. 

Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,


His ear fills up with breathing.

He hears the hum of a boy’s dream

deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able

to live in this world

if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing

with one another.

The road will only be wide.

The rain will never stop falling.

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Here is the video of today’s meditation:

And the audio of today’s meditation: