Thursday, February 26, 2015

Let Sinking Ships Sink

I learned a valuable lesson, yesterday, as I was mid conversation with a dear friend.  We were talking about one of her current struggles, an issue that caused her a lot of stress and anxiety.  I knew there was no advice that I could give her to remedy the situation and let's face it, we're women, we like sounding off about issues without needing someone to fix things for us.  But a thought came to mind.

What if we broke down and freaked out every time something went wrong?  There'd be little time for much else than breaking down and freaking out.  Stuff goes wrong, all the time, and there's virtually nothing we can do about it and we can't prevent life from happening so I opened my mouth and out flowed a lesson that was almost more for me than it was for her:

Your ship will go down.  One way or another, it will sink.  So stop fixating on when the water will start spilling it.  Stop fixating on when the ship will capsize.  Let it happen.  And get out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Get Ready For More

Oh, life, you silly thing you.  You heard me talking about everything going wrong last night, didn't you?  You heard me talking about everything stressing me out last night, didn't you?  You heard me say that I couldn't take anything else stressing me out or going wrong last night, didn't you?  That's why you gave me this morning, didn't you?

The last few mornings, hell, the last few weeks, have been hard for me.  I've had to intentionally tell myself that it will all be worth it.  I've started my mornings with meditation geared towards this mantra and intention.  And each day has NOT been blissfully perfect and enlightened.  Each day has had its struggles.  Each day has had its flaws.  Each day has had its failures.  Each day has gone exactly how it was intended to be.

Today, my day intended to teach me a lesson.  Multiple lessons.  My ego had said that it couldn't take any more, and life intended to teach me that it could, in fact, take a whole lot more.  I put my key in the ignition, turned it over, and a few lights flickered, the beast inside clicked at me a few times, and the tears welled up in my eyes.

Car "stuff" debilitates me.  Lights turn on and I freak out.  I get a flat tire in one state and call my dad in another.  As if that can help, good grief. Things happen and I immediately turn into a stressed out dramatic mess and I have NO idea what to do.  I can top off washer fluid.  I can put air in my tires. I can pump gas.  Anything beyond that and I either need to be medicated or institutionalized.

So I popped the trunk.  I knew my battery had some corrosion around the "connectors" that I brushed off from time to time, so I did that first.  And accidentally inhaled far too much of the corroded acid. My mouth and throat burned.  I threw up.  I cried.  I tried to start it again.  Same old clicking beast. So I called my dad.  In another state.  Because he can TOTALLY come to my rescue and fix it all remotely.  His voice was the calming medication that I needed.  It was a quick dose that started to work a little bit.  He found a towing company while I found a repair shop and called work.  Another dose of calm.

As I waited for the tow, all I could see was an imaginary checklist of everything that they found wrong with my car.  All I could see was my bank account.  All I could see was the number shrinking.  And then I saw a recent purchase sitting on my coffee table.  Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart".  It was like it was a sign.  I felt like things were falling apart all around me.  And not just my car.  There are SO many things falling right now.  As if it were some instruction booklet for my car, for my job, for my relationship, I picked it up and started eagerly searching for what would put it back together again.  And I found it:

In life, we think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem.  The real truth is that things don't really get solved.  They come together for a time, then they fall back apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It's just like that.

Personal discovery and growth come from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Suffering comes from wishing things were different.  Misery is self inflicted, when we are expecting the "ideal" to overcome the "actual," or needing things (or people or places) to be different for us so we can then be happy.

Let the hard things in life break you.  Let them effect you.  Let them change you.  Let these hard moments inform you.  Let this pain be your teacher.  The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself.  Don't cop out on that.  Don't run away and hide under your covers.  Lean into it.

What is the lesson in this wind?  What is this storm trying to tell you?  What will you learn if you face it with courage?  With full honesty and -- lean into it.

There's no amount of meditation or mindfulness that can alter the way your day or life are meant to play out.  Believe me, I've tried.  It doesn't happen.  Ever.  Life falls apart.  And it does that regardless of how good of a person you are, how bad of a person you are, how good of a life you lead, or how bad of a life you lead.  There is no protection.  There is no guarantee of safety.  There is no immunity from life.  And if you're reading this and thinking, "Gosh, isn't she a Debbie Downer!" then you need help.  All there really is in life is the opportunity to face your fears head on, with courage, to run at whatever is pursuing you (instead of away from it) with the respect to defeat it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

3 Easy Tips to Build a Meditation Foundation

You may or may not know this, but I am so blessed to get to write for Mala Collective!   They've been a huge support to me and are just about the kindest people you'll ever meet.  So I'm super happy to share one of my articles they published today!

Look at us. Running around. Always rushed. Fighting to meet a deadline. With lifestyles run by express trains, instant coffee, and easy access to everything at our fingertips, it’s no wonder why they call it the
human race.
What we crave most in this race is connection, something not always easily obtained. For
some, that connection is found with a spouse, partner, or friend, but what we often neglect is connection
to “self”, a connection easily made through meditation practices.

Discover 3 Easy Tips to Build a Meditation Foundation! 

1. Go Public

There is nothing wrong with public displays of affection, so don’t be afraid of public displays of meditation. Though not as elaborate as your at-home meditation practice, finding a quiet space to ground yourself can help you through that ever growing stack piling up on your desk, or with countless science projects and incomprehensible math assignments with your children. Shut your office door. Ground yourself in the copy room. Center yourself in the carpool pick up/drop off zone.

2. Have a Purpose

Meditating for the sake of meditating will be an empty process. Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, offers the perfect reminder: “The only Zen you find on top of a mountain is the Zen you bring there.” Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, come to your practice with an open heart, an open mind, and be open to whatever your practice becomes.

3. Have Help

The first time I had an introspective and listening form of meditation was in a middle school leadership course with an amazing teacher who let us participate in guided meditation. We’d turn out the lights and she’d play a tape that would guide us. It was amazing and still is an amazing form of meditation that I return to when my head just isn’t it. It’s also a great entry level form of meditation if you’re looking to start a practice but aren’t quite sure what to do or where to begin.

The time for meditation is when you don’t think you have time for meditation. It’s while on that express train. It’s while you’re drinking that instant coffee. Put down that smart phone. Reconnect with you.

Dory Knight is a passionate blogger who encourages her readers to #ChooseHappiness through a healthy lifestyle. She writes about and lives a lifestyle full of clean eating, meditation, MMA, yoga, and loves being a gym rat.  She invites you on her own personal journey through fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation shared on Instagram and her blogs TheFitBeast andTheYogaBeast.

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 10

Day Ten:  Choose Your Own Adventure

The beautiful thing about a meditation practice is that there is no judgement.  There is no right or wrong way to do it, and merely showing up and sitting down is enough.  Whether you meditate in silence for hours, meditate with a simple body scan, meditate with a mantra, or even pretend to meditate..all of these things we've been taught by're doing it!

Whether you do it in the shower, in the mail room, while doing dishes, while out for a walk, in the comfort of your own home, lying down, standing up, in your car, in a studio, or while folding laundry, you're doing it!

We got to pick our favorite anchor for meditation with this lesson.  I'd be hard pressed to pick one favorite technique, or anchor, taught by Ira these last 10 days.  I know what I'm most comfortable doing.  I know what I'm most familiar with, having practiced for 15+ years.  I know what support I need more of on different days.  I know what I have time for on a busy day.  But tonight, I chose the lesson from day 3.  My mind has been getting the best of me, lately, with something in particular.  The thoughts about it have literally drifted in and out of consciousness, in my dreams, and are interfering.  Rather than suppress or deny them, I needed to let them go.

I'm grateful to have learned all of these techniques and anchors, but most of all I'm grateful to have learned to not repress, to not bury, to not cover up, and to not dismiss my thoughts and feelings.  All too often we ignore "stuff".  All too often we tell ourselves to not think about "it".  And does it work?  Hah.  Hardly ever.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is not about mind control.  It's not about distraction.  It's not religion.  It's not spirituality.  It's not any of that to me.  It's about quieting down, becoming more aware, becoming more thoughtful, and becoming better.

I truly could not recommend this series on a higher level than I already do.  It's great if you already have a meditation practice or if you're just starting out and don't know where to begin.

I've received no compensation or reward or anything for writing about my experience these last few days.  In fact, more often than not, I never receive anything for writing about a product, person, program, etc.  I just want to put this out there in case it benefits anyone, like it's benefitted me.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 9

Day Nine:  The Suffering Equation (13 minute meditation)

Terry Fralich says that suffering equals the reality of now multiplied by resistance.  So in this meditation I got to cultivate acceptance.  Acceptance of what is.

The mind tells us that things should be otherwise, or the heart tells us that, but things are what they are.  So in order to release our suffering, we need to cultivate acceptance by inhaling acceptance and exhaling resistance.

This lesson could not have come at a more perfect time or on a more perfect day.  My current "suffering" is truly because my mind and heart are telling me different things about how it, me, we, he should be.  And, good grief, does it suck!  It seems like my life is in this constant state of up and down, of falling and standing back up.  Truly, my mala picked me and knew what was coming!  And while I could envy those who seem to have an easier time with life, the people who have limited challenges and struggles and seem to be on Easy Street more than my own rocky paths, I'm being strengthened by those ups and downs.  I get to find my feet every time I get to pull myself back up.

I don't know what the end result will be with this current "suffering".  And I've stopped trying to figure it, me, we, him, out.  I get to inhale acceptance of what is.  And what is is that I'll never not love him.  I get to exhale the resistance of what is.  And what is is that I'll never have any control over the resistance between us.  Instead, I get to be present.  I get to live MY life.  I will not put it on pause.  I will not stop and wait for what my heart tells me is supposed to happen.  I will not listen to what my mind tells me is supposed to happen.  I'm going to accept each moment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 8

Day Eight: Mind Design  (12 minute meditation)

Consider the following paradox:  You're perfect and there's room for improvement.

The perfect part of you is whatever is watching or observing your thoughts.  Perhaps your higher self or a higher power.

The part that might need improvement is your mind or ego.  Which, essentially, was built to protect you.  And the way that it protects you is by creating resentments.  Could have.  Would have.  Should have.  Didn't.

In this meditation, I learned to replace these resentments with gratitude by inhaling LOVE and exhaling RESENTMENT.

Remember that story about that scientist who exposed water to positive words in written and verbal form, as well as positive and uplifting music and then froze the water?  They formed gorgeous crystals.  He also exposed water to negative words in written and verbal form, as well as angry music.  And when he froze it, it was not so pretty.

Think about it.  What you're inhaling is literally taken into your body.  It's actually absorbed into your body and used to fuel it.  The same thing goes for what you're exposed to.  Take LOVE in.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 7

Day Seven:  Mantra Meditation (11 minutes)

I used to think that mantras were used as a form of distraction in meditation.  I thought they were to drown out any extra noises.  I was wrong!

Mantras are used to protect your mind.  They're used for visualization.

Don't actively think about the intention or the meaning on the mantra.  If you know what some of the words mean, it will have a meaning without you having to intentionally think about it.  These associations will have an affect on your mind, and will deepen in significance over time if you explore them outside of meditation.

Ira suggest using one of the following three mantras:

1.  Sat Nam
Sat Nam is the Kindalini Mantra of Awareness.  The most prevalent of all mantras in theKundalini yoga tradition is at once very simple and very complex.  You'll hear this mantra used as a greeting, as a part of many kriyas and meditations, and as a closing to class.  You'll find it the "default" mantra, suggested by teachers as the mantra to have playing in your head constantly on each inhale and exhale.  It even headlines Spirit Voyage's Kundalini Yoga and Music Festival:  Sat Nam Fest.
So what is "Sat Nam"?  What does it mean?
In very simple terms, Sat means Truth and Nam means Name.  You could translate it as True Name or Truth is my name.   It is a way of acknowledging that at our essence is the Essence.  The "Truth", which is bigger than any human truth, isn't a matter of right or wrong or even a concept that we can clearly articulate.  It is simply an acknowledgement that the Great Mystery is who we are.
As a greeting, saying "Sat Nam" is a bit like saying "I see your true nature" or "I recognize the divinity within you".
The vibration of the mantra itself is important.  "Sat" has a vibration that reaches upward through the crown chakra.  It is an etheric vibration, as the meaning of "Truth" here correspondingly isn't tangible but is more etheric.  If you meditate very carefully upon the vibration of "Sat Nam", you can feel the flow of energy moving from the Etheric (Sat) to the Material (Nam).  Nam is "name" but more importantly it is a vibration.  The word itself carries a vibration that makes the divine manifest into the earth plane.  So "Nam" is a grounding vibration, a manifesting vibration.  It acknowledges the Infinite made manifest as a vibration in this world.  So chanting "Sat Nam" reaches up into the etheric plane and pulls the vibration of Infinity into your awareness, your consciousness, and your physical world.
This mantra is more than what it means in translation.  It is an experience.  By chanting "Sat Nam" or meditating upon it with your breath, you call into your awareness the state of the vibration of truth.  You create an internal experience of what these words represent.  Truth, enlightenment, consciousness and above all awareness, comes into your experience.

2. Om Namah Shivaya
Om Namah Shivaya (Panchakshara Mantra, five syllables) is a most potent and popular mantra, which is at the heart of the Vedas and Tantra, and is widely used in this and other variations in the Himalayan tradition, as well as by others. While there are other descriptions of the mantra, the following focuses on meanings for mantra meditation leading to Self-Realization.
OM/AUM: The three parts of Om (A-U-M) encompass the three states of waking, dreaming, deep sleep, the three levels of gross, subtle, causal, and the three levels of conscious, unconscious, subconscious, as well as the three universal processes of coming, being, and going. Absolute silence beyond the three levels is the silenceafter AUM. It also refers to Tripura, the one who live in the "three cities" as in Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, as well as the light referred to in Gayatri Mantra.
Namah/Namaha: Adoration, homage, respect. Nothing is mine (as an individual person); everything is thine (as the Absolute Reality). The three levels of Om, the three worlds of gross, subtle, and causal, along with the three states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states of consciousness, as well as the three levels of conscious, unconscious, and subconscious themselves are "not mine" as the true properties of who I really am. Truly, "nothing is mine." Rather, everything, all of these triads is "thine" or the "other" as the Absolute Reality.
Shivaya/Shiva: That Absolute Reality that is the ground out of which the others emerge. It is that "ink," so to speak, that is not separate from the many forms which may appear to manifest or be created from that ink. In the Realization of this, one comes to see that he or she is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. The Mahavakyas, the great utterances, are seen to be true. Shiva (the static or ground) and Shakti (the active or creative) are seen to be one and the same. She (Shakti), while one with Shiva is realized in direct experience as the one in the three worlds (Tripura) outlined in Om.
The Five Sacred Syllables: The Om Namah Shivaya mantra has five syllables: na-mah-shi-va-ya (sometimes called six syllable mantra by including Om). Thus, Om Namah Shivaya mantra is called five-syllable mantra, or Panchakshara Mantra (panch means five). Among other things, these five represent the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space. Thus, the Om Namah Shivaya mantra leads awareness in the reverse order from manifestation back to the source from which manifestation arose.

3. Om Mani Padme Hum
Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer), Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect -- it is often carved into stones, like the one pictured above, and placed where people can see them. 
Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel (or prayer wheel) is also believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found everywhere in the lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

It is said that all the teachings of the Buddha are contained in this mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or sentence. 
It is appropriate, though, to say a little about the mantra, so that people who want to use it in their meditation practice will have some sense of what they are doing, and people who are just curious will understand a little better what the mantra is and why it is so important to Tibetan Buddhists. We begin in the next section with some information about the mantra itself.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 6 (A Little Bit of Ira | A Little Bit of Me)

Day 6:  Controlled Focus  (10 minute meditation)

Unlike the previous meditations commonly known as open monitoring, today we are trying another type of mindfulness meditation where we direct our attention towards specific areas of the body.

For this kind of meditation you can lie down.  If you're concerned that you might fall asleep, sit up and create the frame.  I personally recommend lying down.

This might be a long post because this is my favorite form of meditation and the form I've been practicing for about 20 years.  First, I will share Ira's technique.  Then, I will share my own as it slightly differs.

Ira draws your focus to each body part, asking you to focus on its point of contact with where you are lying or sitting.  If it's difficult to draw your focus to the body part, he suggest visualizing a butterfly touching that body part.  Focusing first on the bottom of the left food, you progressively focus on the back/front of your left leg, back/front of your right leg, pelvis, lower back, upper back, abdomen, chest, back/front of your left arm, back/front of your right arm, neck, face.  He guides you through it all at a somewhat rapid pace and it's a great exercise to become aware of your body and to really focus your mind.

The way I've been practicing is somewhat different.  I initially found this type of meditation desirable and helpful when trying to manage pain, to assist with sleep and overall relaxation, and to calm my entire body when stressed.  Though it's helpful to have someone guide you through it, I prefer to go at my own pace, a slower speed, in the comfort of a quiet and comfortable room (warm temperature), and set to some peaceful, soothing, and solely acoustic music.

If it's most comfortable to lie on your bed, I suggest it.  Strongly.  You want to be able to melt into the surface and I personally find it difficult to do that on the hard ground.  If you do use the ground and might need a little support, bolster your neck  or lower back with a small pillow.  And if you have pets, get ready.  They'll be all over you like mine are.  It makes this exercise even more challenging to not focus on a little lick or foot rub, but it will definitely hone in your ability to focus.

Now, to my method.  Like I told you, I use this for pain management, sleep and relaxation, and for calming my stressed body, so I don't want to just focus on the body part.  I want to comfort and soothe it.  Instead of a butterfly touching the body part I'm focusing on, I visualize my body being filled with a warm, orange liquid.  I don't know where the orange comes from.  It was just a color that I first picked and have constantly used in my visualization.  Pick whatever color works for you.  Pick something vibrant that sticks out in your mind.  Or pick something calming, soothing, and flowing. Mine is energizing, bubbling almost, and glowing.

I start with my left foot and as the orange liquid starts to flow into my toes, I visualize that specific body part in my mind frame as a sort of glass case.  I can see the liquid slowly trickling in and I can feel the warmth.  Remind me to tell you about the power of your mind in changing your body temperature.  Trust me, you can feel the warmth.  You have to try.

The liquid continue to fill my foot, ankle, shin, up to my knees, and settles in my hips and buttocks.  I want to say butt, but I feel like I need to be scientific.  Oh well, I already said butt.  I'm such a child. I then repeat this on the right side of my body.  I go as slow as my mind needs to properly and sufficiently focus on this meditation.

After reaching both of my hips, the liquid then fills my back, covering my organs, and then topping off at my abdomen.  It's incredibly easy to forget about the parts of your body you've already filled as you're progressing upward.  I like to take a few seconds, scan my body, feel if I've lost my focus and warmth anywhere and instead of filling that spot, I focus on my breath and I send a rush of warm orange liquid to that spot.  I also use this technique if I'm feeling one particular body part in pain.

For example, today I'm dealing with horrible menstrual cramps.  You might be feeling arthritis pain, a headache, a sore throat, a strained muscle, or even some tightness in your chest from allergies, asthma, or a respiratory bug.  Whatever the little pain is, you can focus your energy on it.  I breathe into it and and use a technique called Qi Gong.  Qi Gong is the philosophy and practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for health of mind, body, and spirit.  Though my instruction in Qi Gong is relatively limited, the techniques my instructor has taught me really help me focus my breath and movement to that area of pain.  After going through this meditation and before releasing, I still felt a lingering ache in my pelvis.  Using my hands to motion inwards towards my body, I breathed in a deep and soothing breath.  Using my hands to motion outwards from my body, I exhaled the pain.

Okay, that was a little tangent.  Back on track.  After my torso is filled, I focus on my left arm, starting with my fingertips.  I like visualizing even down to the tips of my fingers, not just my fingers, to really allow this meditation to hit every part of my body.  After my left arm is full, I focus on my right, up through the back of my neck, covering and soothing my throat, and then filling my head.  No, I don't focus on my chin, lips, cheeks, ears, piece by piece.  I fill my entire head and then focus on my face a little differently.

It's almost a little creepy, but I visualize my face melting.  No, not like the Nazis in that one Indiana Jones movie.  Just like softened wax.  Just like someone is molding a face out of clay.  Malleable and soft.

With my lips closed, I drop my jaw and let it relax.  It's easy to open your mouth and think you're relaxing your jaw, but I find that I do it better keeping my lips together and just slightly, slowly letting the bone just hang.  Then I picture my cheeks getting heavy, sagging towards the ground as if gravity has intensified and is softly pulling.  My earlobes do the same.  Then I picture the corners of my eyes pulling downward, too, and my forehead softening.  I really want to feel like my face looks like some wax sculpture that's been in the sun for a little too long.  Weird, I know, but it's the best way for me to really relax and calm my face.  

When most meditations are over, we draw our focus back to the room and become more present.  In this case, I'm a little different.  I don't want to let go of that visual.  I want to keep the warmth and orange glow with my body.  This isn't a daily meditation for me.  This is a specific meditation to treat and soothe my body.  So I need that warmth to continue to help continue to soothe.  Even now as I'm writing this, I'm visualizing a glowing orange belly to mitigate my cramps.  I'm visualizing it in my chest as it's also a bad asthma day for me.  I keep this visual with me until I no longer need its support.

I think that this is an amazing too and technique that should be retained in every single tool box.  It only takes a few minutes but creates the most pleasant and comfortable level of awareness and care for your body.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 5

Day 5: Labeling Our Thoughts (9 minute meditation)

You know the routine by now.  Set your frame!

This exercise is all about labeling our thoughts, and our thoughts are always about the past, the present, or the future.  And the thoughts typically are negative, positive, or neutral in quality.

So thinking about something neutral in the past is labeled as "Remembering".  For example, you think, "I went to the zoo last week."  That's just your mind remembering.  When thoughts like these come into your mind while meditation, tell yourself, "That's my mind remembering."

If you think about something in the past and it's positive, this is labeled as "Reminiscing".  For example, you think, "That cobb salad I ate was amazing."  That's just your mind reminiscing.  When thoughts like these come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That's my mind reminiscing."

If you think about something in the past and it's negative, this is labeled as "Regretting".  For example, you think, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe he broke up with me via text message."  That's your mind regretting.  When thoughts like these come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That's my mind regretting."

Thinking about something in the present that is neutral, such as, "I wonder if it's going to rain today?" is labeled as "Wondering".  When these thoughts come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That my wind wondering."

Thinking about something in the present that is positive, such as, "I would really like a hot fudge sundae right now," is labeled as "Desiring".  When these thoughts come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That my mind desiring."

Thinking about something in the present and it's negative, such as, "I can't believe that person is wearing that ugly brown shirt," is labeled as "Judging".  When these thoughts come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That my mind judging."

Thinking about something in the future and it's neutral, such as, "I'm going to send that e-mail as soon as I get home," is labeled as "Planning".  When these thoughts come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That my mind planning."

Thinking about something in the future and it's positive, such as, "I hope we can spend our honeymoon in Hawaii!", is labeled as "Fantasizing".  When these thoughts come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That my mind fantasizing."

Thinking about something in the future and it's negative, such as, "I hope that brown spot on my leg isn't melanoma," is labeled as "Fearing".  When these thoughts come into your mind while meditating, tell yourself, "That my mind fearing."

These tools enable you to observe your thoughts.  Remember, if your thoughts are about the past, they're either remembering, reminiscing, or regretting.  If they're about the present, they're either wondering, desiring, or judging.  And if they're about the future, they're either planning, fantasizing, or fearing.

Now when you practice this, after a few minutes notice if you have a default way of being, a default way of thinking.  Your mind might be prone to operate like you're playing chess with an excessive amount of planning going on.  Just notice if you're either remembering, regretting, fearing, or planning more than any of the others.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Little Self Love On Valentine's Day

What Walter Mitty Taught Me About Mindfulness

I don't watch a lot of TV and I don't remember the last time I sat in a movie theater, so I really didn't hear too much or see too much press about one of Ben Stiller's best movies, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".  I don't know if critics loved it or hated it.  Were there rotten tomatoes?  Thumbs up? I dunno!  What I do know is that this is one of the best movies I've ever seen.  Spoiler alert:  I'm about to tell you all about it. Sort of.
Walter Mitty seems like the most boring person in the world.  He looks like a pen salesman.  And he's apparently a stalker obsessing over a coworker on a dating site.  He doesn't have the guts to actually talk to her and ask her out, so he secretly lusts after her online.  Sigh.  He secretly lusts after a lot of things and gets caught up in his own imagination and daydreams all too often. 
Too often for his own good, in fact.  He gets in this little "zone" where he's oblivious to everything around him as he dreams up scenarios with various people.  He stands up to a bully at work in front of his peers.  He saves a three legged dog from an exploding building.  But mostly, he just fantasizes and creates ridiculous interludes with the woman he secretly loves. These distractions keep him from actually living in the present, they get him in to trouble, and they make him miss key details going on around him.  And though he's good, no, great, at his job at LIFE magazine overseeing some of the most crucial and important pictures shot by an amazing photographer, he "loses" a picture. THE picture.  The very last picture.  The last picture that will grace the last issue of LIFE magazine.  

Sean, the photographer, played by Sean Penn, is off in some remote part of the world and had sent Walter the last picture, via negative, with the gift of a wallet.  Sean had said that the negative was inside the gift, but it was nowhere to be found. Walter assumes that the negative is with Sean and the only way for Walter to find him is through a few random pictures.  Walter can't let LIFE suffer.  He has to find the last picture.  And in yet another daydream, Sean beckons him to come find him.  Walter, knowing that his job and LIFE are on the line, musters up an ounce of courage and actually talks to Cheryl, the woman of his dreams, and asks for her help.
As she tries to help him, Walter is finally able to spend some time talking to Cheryl and her son.  But, instead of enjoying his time with her, he's fantasizing about their life together or some profound display of affection for her.  He's zoned out again dreaming about what it could be like instead of just enjoying what it is.  Eventually Walter learns that Sean is most likely in Iceland.  In one insanely impulsive moment, he decides to go after him.

After a series of events, he finally figures out that Sean might be on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The only way to reach him is to hitch a ride with an incredibly drunk helicopter pilot who is delivering radio parts to the boat.  After fantasizing about Cheryl singing to him, he narrowly manages to jump into the helicopter as it is taking off.  As they approach the boat, Walter sees that there is nowhere for the helicopter to land on the boat, and he's going to have to jump.  Not realizing that there is a smaller boat on the other side of the helicopter for him to jump into, he launches himself into the water, loses the radio parts, and even has to fend off a shark.  No, this is not in his imagination.  This is reality!

Don't worry, he fights off the shark and lives.  And then he learns that Sean is not on the boat but was recently dropped off in Greenland.  Though he's lost the boat's radio parts, they're kind and take him to Greenland so he can further pursue Sean.  As he gets to Greenland, he learns of Sean's destination and sets off in pursuit.

The country is beautiful, but almost entirely desolate.  Nobody is around.  Anywhere.  He finally reaches a hotel, meets some kids that don't speak English, and trades his Stretch Armstrong doll for a skateboard.  The kids quickly depart with their anxious parents, and Walter finds the hotel owner packing up his car.  The owner helps Walter understand that Sean had been at the hotel but had left on an airplane about 30 minutes prior to go photograph a volcano.  The owner tries to tell Walter not to go, but Walter doesn't listen and set off in pursuit, again.  But on a skateboard.  Down a very steep hill.  And it's quite possibly my most favorite scene in the movie.

Walter has gone through quite a transformation from the beginning on the movie.  He doesn't look like a pen salesman anymore.  But he seems to change even more as he's speeding down the hill on the skateboard.  I couldn't find a good video...I so want you to watch it.  Sorry.

All the while, the hotel owner is chasing after him and when he meets up with him, he tells him that they have to evacuate because the volcano is about to erupt.  But then, Sean flies overhead on the airplane.  So close, yet so far.

The volcano almost swallows them up in a cloud of ash, but after coming to safety, Walter learns that he has to get back to work.  He makes it back to LIFE, still without the picture, and winds up losing his job.

Back in his boring apartment, and in a moment of utter frustration, he throws away the wallet Sean gave him, and in a conversation with his mom, he learns that Sean had visited her, let her take pictures with his camera, and she tells  him that he's in Afghanistan with warlords.  Again, Walter takes off in pursuit.  He will not fail LIFE.

After enduring more adventures, Walter eventually finds Sean on a mountainside attempting to capture a picture of an elusive snow leopard.  They have a profound conversation...profound to
me...and Walter learns that Sean had placed the negative inside the wallet and that he was actually sitting on the last LIFE cover.  Walter hurts his feelings and tells him that he threw it away and he doesn't have it anymore.

Walter comes back to New York, again, and in a scene with his mother, she returns his wallet and tells him that she always keeps his little knick knacks.

As you can guess, Walter does not fail LIFE and gives them the last cover picture.  And he doesn't even look at it!  He has no clue what it is.  Oh, I should probably mention that Sean calls this picture his "greatest work".  So this is a pretty crucial picture that is the "quintessence of LIFE".

Some time passes and he runs into Cheryl.  As they're walking down the street together, she reminds him that the final LIFE came out that day.  And they're completely surprised when they see what the cover is:  Walter.

As they walk away from the newsstand, Walter grabs Cheryl's hand.

Now, what did this teach me about mindfulness?  Walter is the perfect example of someone completely ignoring the present.  Anytime you're dreaming or wanting something different, you're living in the future.  And the future is not real.  It is not reality.  It is not truth.

It was only in that unrealistic fantasy that anything of importance, or anything exciting, happened to Walter, because he was too out of touch to make it really, truly happen.  Though it wasn't the blatant mission of the movie to teach mindfulness, it was amazing to watch Walter become more mindful and to see the daydreaming fade along with his old life.

There have been things in my life that have caused me to "daydream" like Walter.  I have fixated on one particular experience for over a year now and I have dreamed up every possible scenario, alternate ending, and future almost as often as Walter dreamed up his own alternate universe.  I didn't want to be like Walter and only live life when I closed my eyes.

Let me tell you, you see a lot more when your eyes are open.

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 4

Day Four:  Discernment VS Judgement (8 minute meditation)

I find so much joy in creating the physical frame.  It's becoming something I'm trying to remember while even sitting at my desk.  Posture has not been a strength of mine and I love that I'm not only working on my mind but body.

So, "Discernment VS Judgement".  Heavy stuff right?  Nah, it just sounds like it.  Buddha thought that this distinction between the two was important because the mind tends to lean towards blanket generalizations that, when you look at, are sometimes VERY inaccurate.  And example of the distinction between discernment and judgement is as follows.  Discernment says to look both ways before crossing the street.  Judgement says that all cars are bad.  So in this exercise, we observe the thoughts as they come into our mind and see if they lean towards discernment or judgement.

So if the thought comes into your head, "My leg is cramping!  I should adjust it.", that's a discernment.  But if the thought comes into your head, "I'm so bad at meditation.  I don't know why I'm doing this!", that's a judgement.  Focus on what thoughts you're having.  And take this lesson with you through your day.  It'll help you to really hone in on the meaning behind what you're thinking and, if you find that your thoughts are more judgement based, you can shift that way of thinking to something productive, helpful, positive, and constructive.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

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Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 3

Day Three:  Leaves and Clouds (7 minute meditation)

What an amazing lesson and exercise in learning to observe your thoughts with the aide of a visualization.  Ira suggests imagining your thoughts, as they come into your mind frame, as leaves. You watch them float down a river.  Or, you imagine your thoughts as clouds that drift through your mind frame. I chose leaves.

After creating the physical frame and regulating my breath, I began my practice.  As a few thoughts tried to find their way in, I visualized writing the thoughts on the leaves and, rather than just having them drift along like a screensaver, I placed it in the water with my hands.  It was my physical intention to rid myself of the thoughts rather than just letting them drift on their own.

Thought after thought was sent downstream as it interrupted my practice, but that was okay.  The focus of today was not to have an uninterrupted meditation.  It was to learn to observe them with help.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 2

Day  Two:  Breath Attention (6 minute meditation)

One of the characteristics of the mind is that you cannot tell it what to think.  You can't instruct it to meditate.  This exercise helped focus on long and deep inhalations and long and deep exhalations.

As usual, we created the frame to prepare ourselves physically for this six minute meditation, and then we cultivated long, deep inhalations, and long deep exhalations.

I love this.  It's so familiar to me with ujjayi breathing.  It helps us avoid those staccato breaths, the fight or flight breaths we take during stressful days.  Long and deep breaths.  In and out.

Since it helps to have a mantra, something to channel your thoughts, Ira has a great tip.  When breathing in, internalize, "I know that I am breathing in."  When breathing out, "I know that I am breathing out."  On repeat.  For six minutes.  Might sound like a little silly mantra, but I tell you, after a few minutes of it, you'll realize that this is the epitome of a mindful mantra.  It's 100% focused and present.  And easy.  And simple.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 1

Day One:  Pretending to Meditate (5 minute meditation)

As someone whose done quite a bit of meditating over the years, I really understood the message and importance of day one's practice.  By pretending to meditate, you're essentially learning and experiencing what it feels like to just sit there, not meditating.

You build the frame.  Limit distractions, sit in a position where your hips are slightly higher than your knees, chin is level, crown of your head is the highest point of your body, spine erect, shoulders hang down, eyes closed, face relaxed, un-clenched jaw.

"The paradox is that your bones are alert and rigid but your flesh is relaxed."

And for the next five minutes, I sat there, in one position, maintaining my frame, and pretending to meditate.

It was strange.  It was the first time I'd sat there where it was okay to observe my thoughts and not refocus.  All my focus was on was maintaining the frame.

Such a great introductory lesson to learn!

Monkey Brain

The first time I heard the term "monkey brain" in regards to an overactive mind while practicing yoga and meditation, all I could think about was a horribly disgusting part of an Indiana Jones movie. Sorry, now you're thinking about it, too.

The second visual that came to mind was that of monkeys bounding from limb to limb of a tree. Swinging this way and that. Flinging things.  Screaching.

Basically that describes my brain at any given moment.  I have ADHD.  I've probably had it my entire life, but I was only diagnosed with it a few years ago.  After spending quite a bit of time on a controlled substance to try to quiet my mind and lessen the associated problems with this disorder, I wanted a different option.  I took myself off of it.  Cold turkey.  But I didn't have any resources to try to cope.

When I found yoga and then was consequently introduced to mindfulness and mindfulness meditation by an inspired teacher, I knew I'd found my drug.  And it felt so good to take.

I didn't just want to find inner peace.  I didn't want to transcend.  I wanted to function, simply.

The monkey brain will always be there.  Sometimes it's just screeching.  Sometimes just quietly swinging.  Sometimes flinging...stuff.  But it's so nice to have a strong resource to draw various techniques from to stop running through the primate habitat and just be me.  Simply.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ira Israel: Creating the Frame

original article found ::here::

Like highly sophisticated spacecraft traveling at light speed through a very hectic universe, our minds operate on autopilot most of the time. Basic meditation is a tool that we can use to take ourselves off of auto-pilot, reboot our hard drives, clear out the caches, regain the most propitious long-term bearings, gain some insight into the bugs that cause our operating systems to crash, and make tweaks that bode well for our overall ease and happiness.
However, we cannot directly tell the mind to shut itself off or to transcend itself so we actually have to trick it into releasing the autopilot mechanism.

I use the familiar Rabbit/Duck image to describe how I teach this basic type of meditation. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." You may think that you can see the rabbit and duck at the same time but I believe that it is impossible. Maybe the rabbit and duck are flickering very fast in your mind's eye but they are not united as one.
Now please think of the duck (or rabbit) as your thinking apparatus and think of the rabbit (or duck) as your breath. Basic meditation works by tricking the mind into dis-identifying with the thinking apparatus. We accomplish this by focusing our attention on our breath and gently guiding our attention back to the inhalations and exhalations if we notice other thoughts rising to consciousness. This, to me, is the simplest type of meditation, focusing on our breaths in order to trick the mind into taking a break.
However, before one spends a few minutes concentrating his or her attention on the breath, we must create what I refer to as "the frame." In "Hamlet," Polonius reads a letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia to the King and Queen as evidence of Hamlet's madness. Hamlet signs the letter, "Whilst this machine is to him..." I find this inversion very useful for preparing ourselves to meditate.
So please ask yourself: are you a pair of lungs breathing air into a mass of flesh and blood or... try to imagine the inverse, that the air is Spirit, Mystery, Oneness -- the ineffable divine lifeforce -- Brahman -- Love, Freedom, Beauty or whatever you believe in -- and it is being breathed THROUGH a physical manifestation which you know as your machine, your body.
If you watch Elizabeth Gilbert's gorgeous TED talk, she discusses how we anthropomorphized the concept of genius, which originally was similar to a muse or spirit that existed outside of us. Previously, we would contact our geniuses and work with them to allow music or art or poetry or literature to flow through us, the way Mozart received entire symphonies when he was 9 years old or Beethoven received symphonies when he was deaf.
Since the Enlightenment, our belief system -- our paradigm -- has shifted towards a more "scientific" viewpoint. Thus, intangibles such as soul and spirit and genius/muse -- things that cannot be measured by a ruler or a scale -- as well as many other ineffable concepts, no longer exist within our scientific paradigm (except within theoretical physics). Human beings are now little more than food for worms, not individual manifestations of a divine oneness that is inconceivable to the human mind. But for the purposes of learning basic meditation, just try to imagine the inverse, that whatever you believe is a Higher Self or Higher Power -- Love, Freedom, Mystery, Spirit, Oneness, Nothingness, Infinity -- whatever you personally believe -- is breathing THROUGH you, not just that you are a pair of lungs inhaling and exhaling air into a body. (For all born-again atheists I refer you to Mindfulness Meditation, which is ideal for those who believe that there is no greater power in the universe than their own minds -- people who have never seen the Grand Canyon or experienced something that they couldn't measure in coffee spoons.)
For the purpose of basic meditation, the frame is our machine, our body, the flesh and blood we borrow for 87 or so years while visiting planet earth. The first thing we do (unless we are practicing a walking meditation) is sit on the floor or on a cushion or in a chair with our hips a little higher than our knees, our shoulders directly over our hips, and our chins level so that the crowns of our heads are the highest point of our bodies. Our spines are as erect as possible and our bodies are paradoxically alert yet relaxed. We close our eyes and relax the muscles in our face allowing gravity to gently tug the flesh down from our cheekbones (since we spend much time either smiling or with furrowed brows in our culture) -- and then we gently start to elongate the inhalations and elongate the exhalations. If it will help consciously lengthen our breaths we can slowly count "Inhale, two, three, four; Exhale, two, three, four... repeat."
The main thing to do is to allow the prana -- the essential lifeforce of the universe -- air -- to move through your machine in a fluid, gentle, loving manner. We try to maintain our attention on our breathing but we don't judge ourselves if our minds wander -- as I said in my last Huffington Post article, our minds were built to think and don't really know how to do much else. So we just carve out a few minutes of our day to take long, deep, fluid inhalations and long, deep, fluid exhalations -- taking our bodies out of "fight or flight" mode - and if we notice thoughts arising to consciousness we simply guide our attention back to our breaths.
This is basic meditation.
And just know that maintaining concentration on anything -- particularly the breath -- is difficult and that it is OK to just create the frame -- the alert yet relaxed body around a straight spine -- and "fake it until you make it." If you are a Type-A personality like me, simply allot these few minutes to being an ardent under-achiever. What is important is that you show up. That's all. Although Americans are extremely goal-oriented and like immediate results, instead of aiming at a hifalutin target such as "enlightenment" and being disappointed when you sit and "nothing happens," just learn to release your immediate expectations and enjoy a few precious moments of stillness, of equanimity, of ease.
Yes, your mind is going to tell you that you are terrible at meditation, that everyone else can do it easily and that there must be something wrong with you for not being able to do something so simple as to maintain focus on your breath, that meditation is useless and you should be more productive than to just sit and do nothing, but just do your best to ignore these judgments -- because they are not really your voice anyways. Most likely this is the same voice that tells you that you're not good-enough at other activities also, the same voice that told you not to stick your tongue in electrical sockets or run out into the street when you were three years old.
In this type of basic meditation, we are going to the other side of our thinking minds, dis-identifying with our mental soundtracks, and giving the voices in our heads a much needed time-out.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ira Israel: The Different Types of Meditation

I don't have a video, but I wanted to share Ira's description of the different types of meditation:

"I'd like to impart one distinction that I think will help you with your new meditation practice: Meditation, from the Hindu lineage, was designed and devised to help you transcend your thoughts so that you could realize your oneness with the universe or your inner divinity.

Now, Buddha was a Hindu in the way that Jesus was a Jew, and after studying for many years, Buddha's understanding of the universe was that there was no self to transcend, and there was no God or anything divine to transcend to.

So mindfulness meditation is designed and devised to help you exercise your mind as if you were exercising a muscle so you can strengthen it and gain control of it so that it doesn't drag you around like wild horses." -Ira Israel

Now, I'm not saying that I agree with Buddha's understanding of the universe, and I'm not suggesting that you listen to either him or me, but what I am suggesting is that if you're introducing meditation or mindfulness meditation into a regular practice that you do your own studying and gain your own understanding and design and devise a practice centered around it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ira Israel: What Is Meditation?

I've recently discovered Ira Israel, I'm currently going through his 10 day mindfulness meditation series, and I'm finding that his "take" on meditation and the way he educates is one that I can totally relate to and understand.

Meditation isn't religion.  It isn't spirituality.  It isn't anything more than stopping that internal hamster wheel and letting your hardware and software connect in a healthy and less staccato way. Maybe you've been dissuaded from trying meditation because you think it's this new age hullabaloo. I really hope you'll take a few minutes to watch this and see that it's not some hokey nonsense.  It's a great tool and prescription for slowing down and living a more thoughtful life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Be What You Need

Yeah, so not feeling like myself today.  And I know exactly why, who, what, where, when, all of that jazz.  I woke up, immediately turned on but dimmed my favorite Himalayan salt lamp, turned on my meditation music, and sat in the comfort of my bed.  My practice this morning had one purpose: to teach me to be.........something.  I couldn't finish my mantra.  I couldn't focus on an intention.  But then I remembered watching a video shared on Facebook and everything made sense.

This man, I have no clue who he is, has totally changed me.  He stood on a busy street somewhere, placed a sign on the ground that read, "I trust you.  Do you trust me?  Hug me.", blindfolded himself, and stood there with arms reached out wide, ready to accept and give a hug.

When I initially watched the video, I thought about the warm fuzzies (and germs) he got from doing that.  And then I thought about WHY he was doing it.  For the fun of a viral video?  For exposure? Just for kicks?  Or was he doing it because he needed something?

Was he feeling devoid of love?  Was he needing trust?  Did he crave contact?  Was he being what he needed?

The message was simple and as comforting as if I'd just received a hug from a blindfolded stranger:  be what you need.

Time to get me back.  Time to be what I need.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Letting Go

When I was asked to do my first article for Mala Collective, I was happy to hear that they wanted the theme of it to be "Letting go".  Since I got the assignment in December, it was almost like I was geared up for a new year with a new mantra and a new focus.  To be honest, letting go is something that I really struggle with.

It's not that I have a hard time forgiving or that I harbor resentment towards people.  I firmly believe in forgiving, but I stand firm on letting people into my life that are toxic or hurtful, or that just flat out don't contribute much to it.  What I struggle with is letting go of my self.  I can't think of any other way to put it than by saying that.

We're usually our own worst enemies in just about every facet of life.  We're hyper-critical of our own productive work.  We're hyper-critical of the food we make.  We're hyper-critical of our appearance.  We're hyper-critical of our shower singing.  We're hyper-critical of our creativity.  We're hyper-critical of our choices.  I absolutely am.  I will beat myself up for that until the cows come home.  And I hate that about myself.  So, naturally, with that writing assignment, I chose to make that a focus.

It hasn't been easy, and it continues to be a struggle since I constantly dwell on what I could have done differently for a better outcome.  I fixate on what I could have said differently to better express my feelings.  It's going to be a constant struggle for me.  So it's a good thing that the last few days have happened for me.

Without getting into it, events have transpired which have made that crazy hyper-critical mind of mine go on overdrive.  I kid you not, the answers coming to me about what I should do pop up as if I had a Magic 8 Ball for a brain.  Nothing is consistent.  Nothing is helpful.  Nothing is real.  It's all in my head.

So I woke up this morning and refused to get out of bed.  I wanted to lie there and lament my frustrations.  There's only so much playing around on your phone that can keep you in bed, so after an hour, I got up and reminded myself that a quick little yoga practice would probably snap me out of it. Given my state of mind, there was no way I was leading my practice, so I fell back on my trusted friend, YouTube.

The first video I found was total crap.  Sorry Jillian Michaels.  Your yoga is not my yoga.  The second video, however, was meant for me and served the constant reminder to let go.

You don't have to belong to a gym or a studio to practice yoga.  You don't even have to buy DVDs or online programs.  Seriously, YouTube rocks my world.  Here's the video I used this morning.