Archive for July, 2014
I’m hitting the end of week 6 of my meditation study and I think I’m finally experiencing a bit of traction in my practice. (I was so excited about the meditation techniques we learned, I haven’t been tempted to skip at all!) This past week’s class taught us a variety of new meditations, or rather, new anchors on which to focus since the objective is the same with all the meditations—calm the mind and train it to not be so reactive to thoughts, emotions, and situations. We’re being taught so many different paths/techniques because everyone will “click” with something different and the point is to walk away with something we want to continue for the rest of our lives.
This week, among other meditations, we learned a couple heart- and mantra-based meditations (Karuna and Metta). These have proven profound. I’ve worked many times with Metta before and I always love returning to it. It allows such a softening of the heart toward oneself and others. (And worthy of its own blog post so that’s all I say about it for now!) But it was the Karuna practice that surprised me. Karuna is self-compassion, cultivating a tenderness with the intention to heal suffering. We were given a few suggested phrases with which to work (but you could create your own if you resonate with something else):
I allow myself to be imperfect.
I allow myself to make mistakes.
I allow myself to be a learner in life.
I forgive myself.
May I be free from suffering.
Similar to Metta, the idea is to work with yourself first, cultivating self-compassion because otherwise, we just fall back into the all-too-prevalent pattern of always giving until we’re depleted and there’s nothing left to give. Instead, this works to shore you up, create an inner strength based on compassion before sending compassion out to others. When you’re ready, you turn the phrases toward those who might be challenging to you.
These simple phrases can have profound results. We all joke these days about being our own worst critics, but it’s really not funny because it’s TRUE. So many of us mentally and emotionally beat ourselves up all the time over the smallest things, and in turn, we start to judge others the same way creating tension, stress, disconnection, and suffering—and I’m no exception. (Catch me while driving the car sometimes … I’m not thinking nice thoughts!)
To give oneself permission to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to be human is powerful. Forgiving ourselves can become one of the most important things we ever do. Because if we do, then we give ourselves permission to be authentic, to expressly be who we truly are … the masks come off, and the chains that bind us begin to unwind. We can begin to feel, to be vulnerable, to be present to life and to those in our lives. The reality is life is messy and imperfect and when we try to pretend otherwise, it usually hurts.
When I started the Karuna practice, repeating the self-compassion phrases felt like having my Mother rub my back when I was ill as a child; it was lovely and comforting, and I did so for quite a bit of time. I then decided to try focusing those compassion phrases on a few others in my life and it was like a dam finally being broken—it provided such a release of old hurts that I found myself sobbing while a well of love was opening up in my heart. The combined forces of compassion and forgiveness gave me a gift I couldn’t have anticipated.
I will keep working with both Karuna and Metta because these meditations will help me remember one doesn’t grow and learn when everything is perfect. The lessons and growth come from mistakes, from picking oneself up off the ground, brushing off the muck, bandaging up the wounds, and then figuring out how to keep on going in a way that better serves. If we’re present and willing to show ourselves compassion, then we’re not as likely to make the same mistakes. Instead, we grow and move forward.
How much better would our lives be if we could regularly view ourselves and others through the window of compassion? How much easier to learn those lessons without the internal resistance and berating of ourselves? How much more rich could our lives be? How much more authentic? How much more loving?
Have you practiced a heart-based meditation? What was your experience?
“I am larger and better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.” ~Walt Whitman
I had an interaction the other day on Facebook that left me feeling disturbed, a bit angry, disappointed, upset, and frustrated. I often try not to get into the political arena on social media because it’s all so polarized and it’s almost impossible to have any sort of reasoned discourse; there’s always someone who will take offense, misread or misunderstand what you said, or who’s triggered into some impassioned response whether positive or negative. But, I’m human and I react just like everybody else. And a combination of things—NPR and various other news reports on the 50K+ of children stranded at the border and several posts from other friends in reaction—served to compel me to react as well and share someone else’s post about it. I made a statement when I shared, but given the result, I realize that although my intention might have been good (expressing compassion), by sharing someone else’s interpretation of an event rather than simply voicing my own words around the situation, I wasn’t practicing Right Speech—and there were consequences.
Communication has evolved in ways that the Buddha could never have foreseen. Social media, blogging, texting, emailing, and phoning are all ways we talk to, with, and at each other beyond face-to-face conversation. And my latest social media communication frustration got me thinking about how we communicate in general and online. I do think that many of us are pretty sure that we are communicating well when we do, whether we’re sharing our latest status update, the funny video with a cute baby and a dog, the picture of our gourmet dinner, our take on a particular way of eating that we’re sure will cure all your ills, our joy or sorrow over personal milestones, promoting our business products and services, commenting on books or movies, sharing an incendiary image and article because it supports our personal viewpoint, or sharing the latest inane meme. In my opinion however, I don’t think we are communicating well at all. I think most of us—myself included—could do with a refresher on the Buddhist concept of Right Speech.
Right Speech (samma vaca in Pali) is part of the moral discipline portion of the Buddhist Eightfold Path along with Right Action and Right Livelihood. Practicing Right Speech at a time when vitriolic prose runs rampant through social media, radio talk shows, and late night comedy can be a pretty tough path to follow. It’s SO EASY to get caught up in our passions around perceived and actual wrong doings, opposing political views, and the over-arching negativity that seems to rule the media; if it’s negative, horrific, and distressing, it clearly must be news. And we must remember that a good part of Right Speech is listening well. And these days, we’re being talked AT more than ever … and we’re doing it, too.
Hateful and violent words can harm just as easily as hateful and violent action. There are children killing themselves because of cyber bullying … they’re not necessarily getting beat up physically, but mentally and emotionally, they’re bruised and bloodied. There are children who suffer with profound hunger, physical abuse, homelessness, and addictions that aren’t killing themselves. Emotional and mental pain seems to be the harder to endure. It’s always been the case that words, written or spoken, can bring peace or war, union or division, anger or joy, compassion or hatred, love or indifference. What you say matters.
So, what actually IS Right Speech? The Buddha divides right speech into four components:
- Abstaining from false speech (don’t tell lies or be deceitful)
- Abstaining from slanderous speech (don’t speak in a way that causes harm or enmity)
- Abstaining from harsh speech (don’t be rude or abusive in your language)
- Abstaining from idle chatter (don’t talk about others; don’t speak without purpose)
The idea is that by practicing Right Speech you can avoid the pitfalls of Wrong Speech which are conflict, division, confusion and suffering … all plentiful in the world.
At face value, it doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to practice, right? But really, if we truly look at what the Buddha meant behind each of the characteristics of Right Speech, we see how challenging it might be in today’s world. For example, someone may post a negative comment about some entertainer’s performance/album/movie. Can you refrain from commenting? We often find sarcasm funny and witty, and it sometimes is, but it can also be hurtful and mean when directed at an individual’s opinion or personal expression (whether choice in clothing, hair style, makeup, etc.) Can you refrain from sarcastic remarks about people? Chit chat, aka meaningless chatter, is a staple of social interaction. Can you avoid saying, “How are you?” unless you really want the answer? When someone poses an opinion with which you disagree, and you feel you must respond, can you do it with kind and compassionate language rather than rude, dismissive, or argumentative language?
For myself, at this moment, I’m holding the frustrating Facebook exchange in gratitude because it helped me remember that *I* am responsible for what I say, think, and do. How I react, how I interact—verbally or via the written word—is important. It’s truly not about being a Pollyanna and pretending that there aren’t problems in the world, but rather I think we must be compelled to look deeper and figure out how to help, not hinder; figure out how to find some compassion for those embroiled in the many disastrous situations we hear about–whether we find said situations morally wrong or not. And finally, we must find some allowance for others to have different opinions and consider that they’re not necessarily wrong and we’re not necessarily right; the answer is usually somewhere in the middle. And honestly, at the end of the day, Mom had it right. If you can’t say anything nice, it’s much better not to say anything at all.
What do you think? Can you pick one characteristic of Right Speech and practice it for a day or a week? I’d love to hear your experiences with it.
I recently was accepted into a Meditation Study through Brown University in Providence, RI. I saw the notice hanging on the Whole Foods bulletin board and couldn’t stop myself from picking it up. All I could think was, ‘maybe THIS could make meditation stick for me.’
For years I’ve used meditation as a way of judging myself. Sounds odd, right? But as much as I practiced yoga, I have had the most difficult time getting a meditation practice to STICK and a small part of me judged that in a very negative way, like somehow I was failing as a “good” person/yogini if I didn’t sit every day for 30 or 60 minutes. PUH-LEEZE. Seems silly to me now, but that’s what I did.
It’s not that I didn’t have activities in my life that contained meditative qualities, I did. I love chanting in the car, taking yoga classes, and hiking mountains (let’s face it, if you don’t stay aware and in the present moment while hiking injuries can and do happen … meditation is built in by default.) Simply sitting on my deck and listening to the wind in the trees is a favorite, too. But, I didn’t necessarily do those activities every day. And there were plenty of days in which I chose less than meditative activities to de-stress—watching tv or movies, reading novels, having a couple cocktails out with friends. All these activities themselves certainly provide some brief respite from the stresses of the day, and they’re genuinely fun, but none of them offered me true mental space and rarely did they offer the opportunity for personal insight. I’d stop watching tv, or finish my novel, or come home after drinks and dinner out and I’d still have all the stress-causing thoughts running through my head and messing up my sleep.
So, when I saw that notice, I wanted to take advantage. I *know* I don’t want my life as a business owner to run the way my life as a corporate employee ran. So far, I’m having fun, but it’s not stress-free. I don’t have a steady paycheck; I have to work hard to find, cultivate, and nurture my clients so I can build the business I want and need. I know there are so many proven physical, mental, and emotional benefits to meditating. And because I’m learning an awful lot about asking for help, this study showing up seemed like one more step on that journey. I contacted the coordinator and after a phone interview and a two-hour in-person assessment which also disclosed the requirements to participate (not small!), I was accepted into the eight-week study.
Four Weeks … The Start of a Lifetime’s Practice?
I’m four weeks in and find myself still challenged to “fit it in.” It’s sooo easy to fall back on the habit of putting myself last and always needing to do one more thing, take care of one more thing, or just fit one more task into the day instead of doing my daily meditation, which thus far, has been everything from learning which “anchor” is the one I most like to use (in our case, hands, feet, and nose, chest, and belly breath), 3-minute breathing practices, cultivating certain mindfulness qualities, and even various moving meditations ranging from 35-45 minutes. Via daily reports, all the participants have to be accountable. We made the commitment to participate, and we have to own it when we don’t … and it just never feels good to admit that I just blew off meditation for a day or two.
I will happily admit that I am beginning to see improvement in my sleep. And I don’t seem to be having quite as many adrenaline rushes as I used to experience (adrenal fatigue being just one of the chronic stress-induced issues with which I’m still dealing.) And I also must admit that if I do blow off a day or two … I MISS it. I feel like my mind is beginning to have a little more space. And honestly, last week was one of the most creative and productive weeks I’ve had in a while and I suspect that’s due to having a little more of that mental space.
Meditation is clearly a life-long endeavor and practice. Eight weeks won’t have me turned into Jack Kornfield by a long shot. BUT, I’m hoping that by the end of the eight weeks I’ll have a hard time seeing my life without meditation. I’m hoping that the benefits will be shiny enough to hold my attention and I’ll continue to practice. I’m glad I pursued the study opportunity because it does help to have a weekly class and required daily practice and reporting, but that being said, I’m not going to project, or judge, or make absolute statements about what my meditation practice will look like in a month, or two, or three. I’m simply going to take it one day at a time … and maybe join a meditation class or gathering so I’m not going it alone. And on that note, it’s time for me to meditate. 🙂
This blog has often been about finding personal freedom physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and that’s not about to change so I guess it’s appropriate that my return to the blog happens on July 4.
I will say it seems cliché to say what I’m about to say (it HAS been almost three years!) but I’m going to anyway: SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED since I last wrote in this blog! It’s rather mind boggling to contemplate and almost impossible to capture swiftly. When I last wrote, I was reaching a crisis of … everything. My health was steadily failing for reasons I didn’t understand, my energy level was precariously low leaving me weeping at the thought of any physical activity (forget hiking any mountains!), my yoga asana practice became practically obsolete and teaching my beloved yoga classes was swiftly becoming more than I could handle. My daily work was overwhelming and had become profoundly unfulfilling leaving me constantly stressed, and my personal life was full of extreme highs and lows so any sense of balance seemed outside my reach. To sum up, I was reaching my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bottom.
I’d been at the bottom before. One doesn’t reach her 40s without having seen the bottom of at least one or two of those personal aspects. But all of it at once? It was a bit much and I knew things had to radically change. And in acknowledging that things had to change, I also realized a hard truth–I was responsible for where I was. We all have choices and we make them consciously and unconsciously. I had to recognize that too many things were wrong because I let them be that way … and I was the ONLY one who could change it. I also knew I couldn’t do it all at once and likely couldn’t do it all by myself (hard admission for this control-oriented gal.)
So, I started with some small steps. When my western doc couldn’t seem to give me any good answers, I followed the lead of a close friend and sought out a naturopath, and I’m ever so grateful I did. I discovered a plethora of reasons for my ill health, low energy, and yearly bouts of knock-me-down-for-a-month flu. I found I was overly sensitive and reacting to a number of foods causing chain reactions throughout my body. Subsequently, my digestive and hormonal systems were all out of sorts, and chronic stress had affected my adrenals til I was always in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Determined to create that change, I followed my naturopath’s protocols, then changed my diet to eliminate a lot of what was irritating my digestive system (I now eat Primal/Paleo. And yes, I resisted that at first, too!) and over the course of almost three years have steadily seen improvements. I’m not done healing, but I can see progress. I’m eating whole foods almost exclusively with great benefit to my health. I’m picking up my physical activity again, including my asana practice. I’m re-learning to meditate. I’m learning to care enough about myself and my health that it’s a priority in my life–and in how I build my business.
As my physical health began to improve, my mental health and work situation became more and more of a problem. I’ve never been good with being bored and I was sooo bored at work! That’s not to say I wasn’t overly stressed because there was always too much to accomplish with the resources we had. But the work didn’t challenge me creatively or mentally any more and I no longer worked within my strengths; although I worked with great people, every day had become a stressful challenge. I kept looking for other positions, but nothing seemed to be right. And so I started seeking other help and found Dr. Kate Siner (an entrepreneurial and personal development mentor) who started filling my ear with, “Why don’t you start your own business?” I must say, I resisted at first. I didn’t feel like I could do it. And I was stuck on the idea that any business I started would have to focus on web design and building. Why? I’ve no idea; that’s a very silly idea–my web skills were too old school to be useful. But it’s a good illustration of how we can get in our own way and how our fear and resistance to the very change we claim we want can have us making decisions that make no sense. It wasn’t until Dr. Kate said to me, “Why are you focused on design? Aren’t you good at content? At copywriting?” I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open in response because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen that myself. Of course! Writing is the thing that has always come easy … and the talent I’ve most often dismissed.
That was the conversation that started my business. And just starting it felt like a giant leap, but that was nothing compared to handing in my notice after 13+ years and launching my business full-time. THAT was a moment fraught with a lot of trepidation and fear. But by that time, I’d support in place. Dr. Kate had become my mentor and brought with her a group of fellow entrepreneurs who offered valuable windows into the experience of starting a business, I’d reached out to friends six months before handing in my notice and told them they had to hold me to it, and most importantly my very loving and supportive partner said, “Do it! We can make the early years of you building it work and I know you can make it successful.”
So, here I am, just passing the one year anniversary of giving my notice and approaching my one year anniversary of launching Wellness Scribe full-time and I’m finally “taking up my pen” again. The last few years have been a wild ride full of ups and downs. As difficult as they got sometimes, I can’t regret them because I’m here now. I like how things are beginning to develop. I know I’ve got a LOT of hard work and some sacrifice ahead of me, but I have the tools. I have the support. And I have enough faith in myself to continue to take those small steps and giant leaps … even if I sometimes have to reach out to my support system and ask for a gentle push. 😉
I hope you stick with me as I continue to ride the yogini-hiker-wellness addict-entrepreneur wave because the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that we can’t do it alone–support is necessary. And I hope you’ll share some of your stories with me so I can support you, too.