Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Cultivating Wisdom and Equanimity

Pandemic. Election and divisive politics. Red States v. Blue States; Us v. Them. This is not healthy. We have forgotten that we have so many more reasons to come alongside one another than we do for pushing apart.

On Saturday night (Nov 7 2020) in the United States the NBC television network broadcast Saturday Night Live, with the comedian Dave Chappelle as the guest host. His opening monologue was brilliant, and captured many of the thoughts and feelings pervading the American public. You can find it easily on YouTube if you’d like to watch; it’s worth taking the 16 minutes to do so.

Today’s NYTimes published an excerpt of his monologue, which I’ve reproduced below. You can read the entire article at this link:

(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/08/arts/television/saturday-night-live-dave-chappelle.html):

— Nearing the end of his monologue, Chappelle struck a more sympathetic tone. “For the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy of white people is dropping — because of heroin, because of suicide,” he said. “All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad because they think nobody cares — maybe they don’t.”

Chappelle continued:

But let me tell you something, I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels. If you’re a police officer and every time you put your uniform on, you feel like you’ve got a target on your back. You’re appalled by the ingratitude that people have when you would risk your life to save them — ooh man, believe me, believe me, I know how that feels. Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you: You guys hate each other for that, and I don’t hate anybody. I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through. That’s what I suggest you fight through. You’ve got a find a way to live your life. You’ve got to find a way to forgive each other. You’ve got to find a way to find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling.”

People are not the enemy; hatred is the enemy.  The people I fear are not the enemy; fear is the enemy.  Anger is the enemy.  Can I live with these feelings, but not be owned by these feelings?  It is natural to feel these ways; what can I learn from each feeling?  That I am afraid? That I have been violated?  If so, then how can I make my space safer; more just?

Wisdom is found when people are willing to notice without judging. Observe deeply, and then intervene. Accept that each of us feels strongly, and still treat each other with respect and dignity.

If you find yourself in a situation in which another person is driven by fear and anger, find that place inside yourself where there is stillness. It never goes away; it just becomes more difficult to find in agitated moments. But if you are willing to find that still point within, over and over again in your daily meditations, then the pathway will be well worn and easy to follow. Agitation met with agitation becomes a catastrophe. Agitation met with stillness and equanimity can become a dialog, maybe even a conversation. And from these conversations may come wisdom, but that will only happen when at least one person in the room is willing to do the work of locating that still point and inhabiting it.

Here is today’s meditation video, with the audio only found below.

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Election Anticipation

The difference between feeling “hope” and “dread” depends upon how you choose to think about today, tomorrow, and all the days that follow.  Marcus Aurelius, 2nd century ruler of the Roman empire and Stoic philosopher, wrote that “the happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”  We should heed this wisdom in this time of chaos.

The American election is fraught with hope and dread. With our mindfulness practice we do not seek to diminish either experience. Rather, we notice and accept this activity of the mind/body, and in so doing come to “own it” rather than “it owning us.” In today’s meditation I chose to bring to mind a few words of wisdom to remind us of the relationship we have with our thoughts and feelings:

“We don’t meditate to improve ourselves; we meditate to end our compulsive striving to do everything better.”

Chris Germer, in The Mindful Path to Self Acceptance

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable is manageable.  When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.  The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers

During the meditation I chose to read a reminder from Hafiz, 14th Century Persian poet, that there is only one moment to live: now.

Now is the time

Now is the time to know

That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider

A lasting truce with yourself and God?

Now is the time to understand

That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels

To be laid aside

When you can finally live

with veracity and love.

Now is the time for the world to know

That every thought and action is sacred.

That this is the time

For you to compute the impossibility

That there is anything

But Grace.

Now is the season to know

That everything you do

Is Sacred

—  Hafiz

Here is the video from today’s meditation:

And here is the audio:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Contentment on a Down Day

Today, for me, is a day for “being” much more than for “doing.” Waking up to a scratchy throat, stuffy nose, and lower energy than is usual, I choose to rest and take care of myself. I am fortunate that I am able to do that; many cannot afford that luxury.

Revisiting literature that is eternal and universal, I picked up Thoreau’s “Letter to a Spiritual Seeker,” and sought out my favorite quote from his letters to Harrison Blake:

“I am grateful for what I am & have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. Well anything for variety.  I am ready to try this for the next 1000 years, & exhaust it. How sweet to think of! My extremities well charred, and my intellectual part too, so that there is no danger of worm or rot for a long while. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it – for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.”

– Henry David Thoreau; “Letters to a Spiritual Seeker”

In a way it may be easier to be contented “with nothing definite – only a sense of existence” when not feeling very well. Illness reminds us that we can only live one day at a time.  Why not cherish each day?  How often do we consider how life “should” be, rather than seeing the beauty and the good in this day, in this moment, as life actually is, even when this moment isn’t terribly pleasant.

Here are the recordings from today’s meditation:

Peace,

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Wanting & Needing

Today is my 66th birthday. I like my age! At this age I find it easier to discern decisions, speak my mind, and notice what matters the most. I think I know my values and virtues by now. I try to live them intentionally, one day at a time. I have learned that when I live my values and virtues everything else seems to fall easily into place.

On my birthdays I take the time to revisit books that have meant a lot to me. Don’t get me wrong; I worked today! But in between appointments I recollected many of the ideas that I found useful and profound over the years. I was drawn to Thomas Merton’s Asian Journal, which influenced me in ways difficult to describe, and still informs me today. Reading again his description of his experience at Polonnaruwa on Sri Lanka, I couldn’t help but think of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experiences and his four conditions for an experience to be “religious:” ineffable, noetic, transient and passive. Merton certainly was able to check those boxes that day!

On January 27, 2014 I published an essay on this website titled “Wanting….Needing….” (https://jamesmwalshpastoralcounseling.com/2014/01/27/wanting-needing/) In that essay I referenced Merton’s religious experience on Polonnaruwa as well as a recent visit my wife and I had made to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. After going back to read from Merton and James, I went back and reread my essay on wanting and needing. It seemed relevant to me personally again, and perhaps is relevant to the times we live in.

Today’s meditation includes a reading of that essay with display of some photos from that webpage. Here are the video and audio recordings of today’s meditation:

I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Acceptance & Mindfulness: On the Messy Roads of Life

“The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.”

― Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Difficult times seem to bring out our best or our worst sides.  Much of our response to difficulties is dependent on our attitude toward difficulty itself.  To be avoided?  Denied?  Or to be faced squarely, accepted.  Willing to work with it? Or not?  We can say “it’s not fair” but, after all, the road is always messy the way real life is always messy.

If we’re going to do the work of being mindful then our first lesson is to practice acceptance.  Acceptance is often mistaken for an attitude of “everything is fine; don’t worry.”  But that is not true; sometimes everything is not okay.  

You’re in a convenience store; an alarm blares; you smell smoke.  Employees are panicking, running out of all the doors as you hear a siren in the distance.  EVERYTHING IS NOT OK!

Perhaps a more relevant situation would sound like this:

A child I am serving comes to school agitated.  He lashes out easily; can’t sit still.  He’s ready to fight.  The room is tense.  Other children in the room are getting agitated now.  And I don’t know what to do.

When we practice acceptance we commit ourselves to seeing each moment of our life as inevitable, given what has come before.  As a result we’re rarely surprised, though we still may feel startled.  When I practice acceptance I form the intention to notice what is happening, not taking it personally, not judging anyone involved.  As acceptance becomes a felt experience, I notice strong emotions forming and arising, but they are events I am experiencing rather than the experience itself.  And with acceptance, I can notice a space between the event and my response, a space that contains my freedom to act with skill rather than with impulsiveness or defensiveness, without my anger or fear getting in the way.  And calm returns quickly to me, and that calm becomes contagious.

A few good quotes:

First, from an interview with Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale University in the NYTimes:

Question: What does the research say about how happiness is affected during Covid?

Answer: The message I’ve seen from the current research is that Covid’s not great for well-being; symptoms of depression and symptoms of anxiety tend to be going up. And those are systematically worse in more vulnerable populations. So if you look at, say, African-Americans right now, the effects of that stuff is worse. If you look at lower-income individuals or folks who don’t have child care help — all the folks who would normally be getting a well-being hit — it’s worse in the context of Covid.

Question: So how can we achieve happiness in chaos?

Answer: Try not to run away from those negative emotions. As parents, when kids are expressing uncertainty, your instinct is to just deny it or pretend it’s not there, to “power through it.”  But uncertainty, fear, frustration, anger, jealousy — all of those negative emotions — they’re not going away. You need to give them space. One technique is to use meditation, where you really try to recognize and accept those emotions. In particular, RAIN: recognize, accept, investigate and nurture.”

Second, some wisdom from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (page 417):

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

And the video and audio from the October 13, 2020 meditation session:

Peace!

Jim

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

The Power of Mind

Stoic philosophy is sometimes mistaken for pessimism.  It is anything but that.  Instead it is realistic, noticing reality without judging it, and it is radically accepting, always teaching us to be aware of the worst fault you find in others, as it may be the fault you most fear in yourself.  In our mindfulness practice we follow this same philosophy closely.  In these pandemic days it is easy to fall into the trap of pessimism, but our mindfulness practice guides us into seeing reality as it is, and our practice of acceptance allows us to respond with skill and with vigor.  Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations reminds us of these timeless principles. In today’s meditation I have used some quotes from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The video and audio of this session can be found beneath the quotes.

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

“You have the power over your mind — not outside events.  Realize this, and you will find strength.”

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

“Dwell on the beauty of life.  Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

If you would like to join one of these sessions in real time, here are the details:

11:50 am         Zoom Meeting site opens  (11:50 EDT [USA]; 15:50 GMT)

12:10 – 12:15               A Brief Talk from Dr. Walsh: Lessons we can learn from Mindfulness

12:15 – 12:30  Gently guided Mindfulness Meditation

After 12:30 feel free to stay in the Zoom Meeting site for reflection and conversation.  The Zoom Meeting will have to close by no later than 12:45 pm EDT (USA), 15:50 GMT

In order to join a Zoom meeting just follow this link on your internet browser, on your phone or computer:

https://zoom.us/join

Once you have reached the zoom.us/join site, enter the Meeting ID:

Meeting ID: 154 883 178

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Writing My Elegy

Once again, drawn to Mary Oliver. I was thinking about faith this morning, so Googled “faith Mary Oliver.” In doing so I found a poem of hers, published in 2015, titled “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way.” It struck me as instructions for whoever gets to compose an elegy for her. Perhaps even an elegy for herself?

What will your elegy say?  How do you want to be remembered?  More importantly, how will you live your life today that will inform whoever it is that gets to write your elegy?

Today’s meditation was centered around a mindful reading of this poem. Beneath the video and audio you’ll find the poem itself.

If you’re John Muir you want trees to

live among. If you’re Emily, a garden

will do.

Try to find the right place for yourself.

If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.

                                 •

When one is alone and lonely, the body

gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,

or splashes into the cold river, or

pushes through the ice-crusted snow.

Anything that touches.

                                 •

God, or the gods, are invisible, quite

understandable. But holiness is visible,

entirely.

                                 •

Some words will never leave God’s mouth,

no matter how hard you listen.

                                 •

In all the works of Beethoven, you will

not find a single lie.

                                 •

All important ideas must include the trees,

the mountains, and the rivers.

                                 •

To understand many things you must reach out

of your own condition.

                                 •

For how many years did I wander slowly

through the forest. What wonder and 

glory I would have missed had I ever been

in a hurry!

                               •

Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still

it explains nothing

                                 •

The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Embracing Tension, Embracing Growth

With mindfulness practice we learn to live in the zones between comfort, where tension is found.  But in coming to terms with tension we can negotiate a newfound peace, and we find a very creative and even safe place to be emotionally and spiritually.  In order to find this place it is important to embrace the dialectic; to not hesitate.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed necessary tension and its potential to be a catalyst for growth. This document’s relevance today is as meaningful as it was in 1963, when Dr. King composed this letter while incarcerated for the “crime” of engaging in a peaceful protest of white supremacy and racial injustice. America continues to be plagued with white supremacy and racial injustice; we need to embrace the tension created by civil disobedience and protest in order to find the creative growth to form a truly civil society.

As nourishment for our hearts and souls on this journey we have Mary Oliver’s poem “Don’t Hesitate.” Her conclusion that “joy is not made to be a crumb” is one that I believe Dr. King would have embraced as well!

Martin Luther King, from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth (italics added). Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

Mary Oliver, “Don’t Hesitate”

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty

of lives and whole towns destroyed or about

to be. We are not wise, and not very often

kind. And much can never be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this

is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

something happens better than all the riches

or power in the world. It could be anything,

but very likely you notice it in the instant

when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the

case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

The video and audio found below are guided meditations (with some introductory remarks) appropriate to the themes addressed above.

Audio recording of this guided meditation:

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Contemplating Being And Doing

During the pandemic I’ve been concerned about my tendency to value doing over being, which makes sense in the context of my work as a counselor and teacher. There are needs of others to attend; focusing on my own needs for stillness and solitude can feel selfish.

But there is great value in contemplation. Finding stillness within; spending time observing rather than intervening; knowing that sometimes the best thing you can do is what you don’t; each of these may open into a perception with greater clarity. With clarity comes a calmer way of seeing and understanding the world as it is at present.

This meditation is intended to help with the experience of stillness, and includes recitation of two poems by Mary Oliver. You’ll find them just beneath the video and audio.

Today by Mary Oliver

Today I’m lying low and I’m

not saying a word

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness.  One of the doors

into the temple.

The Notebook by Mary Oliver

Six a.m.—

the small, pond turtle lifts its head into the air like a green toe.

It looks around.

What it sees is the whole world swirling back from darkness:

a red sun rising over the water, over the pines,

and the wind lifting, and the water-striders heading out,

and the white lilies opening their happy bodies.

The turtle doesn’t have a word for any of it—

The silky water or the enormous blue morning, or the curious affair of his own body.

On the shore I’m so busy scribbling and crossing out

I almost miss seeing him paddle away through the wet, black forest.

More and more the moments come to me: how much can the right word do?

Now a few of the lilies are a faint flamingo inside their white hearts

and there is still time to let the last roses of the sunrise float down into my uplifted eyes.

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Managing Stress During the Pandemic: Social Connections Matter!

Surviving stressful times means attention to self-care of the body, mind and soul.  Exercise, healthy eating, social connecting, prayer and meditation are all helpful.  But don’t overlook the importance of casual connections, and see what impact you make on those who need your casual connection.

On Thursday, August 3 2020 Jane Brody, in her weekly “Personal Health” column, described the impact of social connections on well-being, especially on stress management during the pandemic. As you would expect, maintaining social connection with those closest to us is very important, but maintaining social connection with so-called “weaker ties” (i.e. acquaintances) also predicts a lot about well-being. Here is an excerpt from her column:

“Katherine L. Fiori, chairwoman of undergraduate psychology at Adelphi University who studies social networks of older adults, has found that activities that foster “weaker ties” than are formed with family and close friends foster greater life satisfaction and better emotional and physical health.

“The greater the number of weaker ties, the stronger the association with positive feelings and fewer depressed feelings,” Dr. Fiori said in an interview. “It’s clearly not the case that close ties are all that older adults need.”

And not just older adults, all adults. Dr. Fingerman said research has shown that, in general, “people do better when they have a more diverse group of people in their lives.” But as Dr. Fiori observed, “Unfortunately, Covid has severely curtailed our ability to maintain weaker ties. It can take a lot more effort to do this online.”

Dr. Fingerman’s research has also shown that people who are more socially integrated are also more active physically. “Being sedentary kills you,” she said. “You have to get up and move to be with the people you run into when exercising.” Consequential strangers also help your brain, she said, because “conversations are more stimulating than with people you know well.””

From “The Benefits of Talking to Strangers,” Jane Brody, NYTimes, August 3, 2020

You can find this article in full at this link:


At our August 4, 2020 “Take a Break From Stress” online meditation meeting, I recorded this video (audio-only can be found directly below the video) that is based on this theme:

Audio:

Best wishes for a peaceful day,

Jim