meditation · mindfulness

Zen Kerriann

A few days ago, I finished reading one of my Slow Jams – Buddhism Is Not What You Think, by Steve Hagen. It was great, although I preferred the first book I read by Hagen, which was called Buddhism Plain And Simple.  

Now, I only had a few takeaways from this book, and this was in part because the book emphasized several simple and key points repeatedly. My biggest takeaway was this: you can’t sit down to meditate because you’re trying to achieve something. If you’re trying to achieve something – peace, health, enlightenment – then you’re missing the point.

40449652_1867772359973780_5557409225409298432_n

Huh.

Yeah. I don’t know about that.

It certainly doesn’t resonate with my current feelings about meditation. For the past few months, I’ve continually come back to this thought: I really need to meditate. 

I have meditated, on and off, for years, but I’ve never maintained a regular meditation practice. Meditation is recommended to me often – as a source of strength and connection in my recovery, as a way to clear my monkey mind. The biggest reason I’ve been wanting to meditate recently is that I’m facing up to the fact that I am a pretty anxious person, and that my anxiety and my fears often affect my mental and physical well-being.

I listened to an audio program that outlined 12 steps toward practicing mindfulness meditation well, and I learned a lot. But putting it all into practice is a challenge, especially in the midst of caring for an infant, getting little sleep, and eating mostly candy with the occasional home-cooked organic vegetable squeezed in here and there.

The program highlighted the simple things you need to engage in mindfulness meditation and to see the benefits of this practice, such as consistency and quieting your judging mind. It also talked about doing EVERYTHING mindfully – eating, walking, breathing, etc. That seems like a lofty goal when right now I’m doing almost nothing mindfully.

Whew. Well, this has been a long few weeks, and I’m tired. I’m looking forward to taking the next few days to reset, and meditation is on the agenda. Maybe I am missing the point of meditation – but I don’t think so. I think it’s okay to seek the benefits – mentally, emotionally, physically – of meditation. Along the way, I will likely come to realize that acceptance of the present is the only real thing we can “achieve” when we meditate – and maybe I’ll have decreased my anxiety and increased my capacity for stress enough to enjoy that realization more fully when it comes.

39109127_2044178865615008_7400156946528993280_n

goals · meditation · self-care · writing

2018 #heartsoulmindspirit

I really love New Year’s Day.  It lines up nicely with my enjoyment of fresh starts and blank pages.

I enjoy setting intentions for the new year, and I enjoy reflecting on the year that’s just ended.  The year I just finished was just like every year before – moments of sweetness and moments of sorrow, lots of joy and stress, all mixed together.

My favorite thing about 2017 was mommying a toddler.  Teddy started crawling on Valentine’s Day, and it’s been really fun ever since.  I love the everyday joys of parenting a toddler – so much to teach, so much to discover, so much joy and laughter and personality.

My least favorite thing was all the ANGST – mostly over the direction of my professional career.  I’m still at a crossroads, not sure which path to take next.  I’m sick of thinking about it.  I’m also sick of how stressed and anxious and ANGSTY I get when I’m thinking about it.

76d3440af82e0b53e59d5b84839fa334 (1)

Here are a few of my intentions for 2018:

-Meditate.  This doesn’t always have to be the kind when I sit quietly in one place, though I do enjoy that kind.  For example, yesterday I swam laps for the first time in years, and it was the most meditative thirty minutes of my week.

During 2017, one of my wise and gentle helpers suggested that it’s my anxiety, rather than any specific problem, that really gets in the way of my happiness and peace.  I’d like to take this seriously in 2018 and make a commitment to calming my monkey mind.

-Keep writing.  The OTHER best thing about 2017 has been my commitment to writing.  I submitted THREE stories for publication – all rejected, as far as I know at this point.  But I wrote them, and I sent them out into the world, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for over a decade.

When I’m overthinking, I worry that it’s too late for me to have a writing career.  There’s a wonderful advice column piece from Roxane Gay in the New York Times explaining that this is not the case.

-Choose self-care over angst.

I found this post-it note stuck in my latest Louise Penny library book this week:

I decided that this was the universe telling me to let go of my angsting.  Angst has not been my friend.  It was not my friend during the adoption wait.  It was not my friend during 2017, as I struggled to figure out what to do next with my career.

I often get tripped up by justifiable angst.  It’s perfectly understandable that the adoption wait was upsetting, right?  And it’s perfectly reasonable that I feel upset and stressed when my job is not a good fit.

However, my angst is no less awful when it’s caused by real things.  So I need to let that stuff go.  Every single last lime and kiwi – in the trash can of 2017, no longer getting in my way in 2018.

I made a decision this fall that. whenever I feel disturbed, I need to do something nice for myself or an act of service to someone else.  Hence, this intention – self-care over angst FTW.

-Be intentional.   Make your choices carefully and mindfully.  Spend less.  Do less, with more purpose.  Shop less, and when you do it, shop local.  Use every moment you have; don’t lose them to mindless activities.

Tee sent me an article by Ann Patchett to read called “My Year of No Shopping.”  That’s part of what inspired this intention – thinking about how often I mindlessly spend money, or order things on Amazon instead of making more satisfying purchases that support local small businesses.  Or, not making purchases at all.

I’d like to continue my quest to keep things simple in 2018.  Simple, sweet, and significant.

What’s your intention?

images

 

books + reading · meditation · mindfulness

#10%Happier #mind #soul #takeaways

I just finished re10-percent-happierading a nonfiction book.  This is a rare occurrence for me.

It’s called 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story.  It’s kind of a memoir-slash-self-help-book by journalist Dan Harris, and it’s about his journey through the self-help world, which ultimately ends with his discovering the power of meditation.

love this book.  It’s inspiring me to take up a daily meditation practice, which I’ve done before but have never been able to maintain for too long.

Here are my takeaways from 10% Happier:

Understand that ‘it is what it is’ – and then do what you need to do next.  

A lot of Harris’s writing is about his struggle to balance meditation with the ambition and productivity associated with everyday life.  He writes about how meditation is about acknowledging feelings and accepting thoughts as they are.  But then he writes about doing what needs to be done next.

You can accept where you are, and then you can do the next right thing; acceptance and action are not contradictory.

Learn to respond, not react.

Harris writes: What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.” In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.

As my work week creeps on, I find myself struggling to respond rather than react.  I do a pretty good job with it on Mondays; I struggle a LOT on Fridays.

A really awesome definition of mindfulness.

I’ve read and written a lot about mindfulness, but Harris’s book gave the best and easiest to understand definition of mindfulness I’ve ever heard.

He writes that mindfulness is like looking at your thoughts from behind a waterfall.  Picture the mind like a waterfall: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall. 

So, if I am practicing mindfulness, I can watch my thoughts and my feelings flow by without becoming swept away by them.

Simple – but challenging.

-Do one thing at a time.12509431_1011472385587227_7921394802468337843_n

Harris writes: [Janice Marturano – founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership – recommended something radical: do only one thing at a time. When you’re on the phone, be on the phone. When you’re in a meeting, be there. Set aside an hour to check your email, and then shut off your computer monitor and focus on the task at hand.

Another tip: take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. [Marturano] called them “purposeful pauses.” So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. When driving, turn off the radio and feel your hands on the wheel. Or when walking between meetings, leave your phone in your pocket and just notice the sensations of your legs moving. 

“If I’m a corporate samurai,” I said, “I’d be a little worried about taking all these pauses that you recommend because I’d be thinking, ‘Well, my rivals aren’t pausing. They’re working all the time.’”

“Yeah, but that assumes that those pauses aren’t helping you. Those pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what’s important.”

I love all of this.

-Ask yourself if your thoughts are useful.

It’s all about being in the present moment – right?  However, Harris poses the question: What about when you need to think about the future?  You’re considering your career – or you’re planning how to be on time for your flight home to Maryland.

One of Harris’s meditation mentors, Joseph Goldstein (well-known teacher and author, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society), answers this question.  His response was (not verbatim) yes, wonderful, think about your flight.  But when you’re running through your route to the airport for the seventeenth time, be mindful of this and consider if this thought is useful.

This reminds me of one of my rules for things to say out loud: Ask yourself – is it kind?  Is it helpful?  Is it true?  

It also is a pretty great method for measuring when you’re thinking in a healthy, productive way, and when you’re thinking in an unhealthy and unproductive way.  I can just ask myself – is this useful?

Observe The Ten Pillars of Cutthroat Zen.

In the final chapter of 10% Happier, Harris writes a list of recommendations for using meditation and mindfulness principles in everyday life and the workplace.  I put quotes for the book in parentheses where I thought explanation was needed

1. Don’t be a Jerk.

2. (And/But …) When Necessary, Hide the Zen.  (“Sometimes you need to compete aggressively…it’s possible to do this calmly and without making the whole thing overly personal.”)

3. Meditate.  (“Meditation is the superpower that makes all the other precepts possible.”)

4. The Price of Security is Insecurity — Until It’s Not Useful.  (“Mindfulness proved a great mental thresher for separating wheat from chaff, for figuring out when my worrying was worthwhile and when it was pointless. Vigilance, diligence, the setting of audacious goals— these are all the good parts of ‘insecurity.'”)

5. Equanimity is Not the Enemy of Creativity.

6. Don’t Force It.  (“It’s hard to open a jar when every muscle in your arm is tense.”)

7. Humility Prevents Humiliation.

8. Go Easy with the Internal Cattle Prod.  (You can get a lot further when you practice kindness and self-compassion than when you are beating yourself up all the time.)

9. Nonattachment to Results.  (This is HUGE!  Work hard – but understand that the results won’t always go your way, and that letting go of your attachment to outcomes makes life so much happier.)

10. What Matters Most?  (Listen to your inner voice.  It does not lie.)

the-voice-by-Shel-Silverstein-e1398434975375

books + reading · meditation · mindfulness

#mind #soul

I’ve been reading How To Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh – a tiny, beautiful book of meditations on mindfulness.  (One of my Powell’s purchases!)41IZUZgUAmL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

There have been a lot of amazing passages so far.  Like this one: We human beings have lost confidence in the body just knowing what to do. If we have time alone with ourselves, we panic and try to do many different things. Mindful breathing helps us to relearn the art of resting. Mindful breathing is like a loving parent cradling a baby, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you; just rest.’

My favorite takeaway so far from How To Relax is this – my daily life, conducted with mindfulness, is a gift I give myself.  I can’t remember if this is a passage I read in the book or a realization I had while reading it; probably the former.

I haven’t been giving myself a daily gift of life conducted in mindfulness lately.  My mind has been crowded and scattered – all over the place.

mindful

I am hoping to go to a training on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction sometime in the near future.  I want to learn more about mindfulness as a psychological strategy and an academic concept.

But with the day-to-day of mindfulness – I know exactly what I need to do.  I need to focus on the present moment.  The challenge is actually doing it!

I can get very caught up in my head; it’s a big struggle for me to keep myself in the present moment.  I get stuck in the past or in the future rather than staying in the peacefulness of the now.

spiritual fair

Be more present – this was one of my resolutions for 2016.  And I think I’m doing okay with it – good, but not great.  One of my defaults when I’m stressed or overwhelmed is to rely on background noise – usually TV or a podcast – and I have been doing somewhat better with this habit o’ mine.

I find that when I’m doing something that forces me into the present moment – my evening walks with Tee, most of my work day, a doctor’s appointment – I can stay there and exist there happily.  However, when I have the option to multi-task, I usually take it.  (Right now, the fifth season of The Office is playing in the background as I type.)

My quest for mindfulness is ever-present.  Someday (hopefully!) I will be, too.