Generosity

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/215/talk/23255/

I’ve listened to the above linked talk about half a dozen times.  Something about when I heard it and what was spoken about hit me in the right spots at the right time.  I have been feeling inspired.  

That’s all.

Thank you, Vinny Ferraro, for your generosity.

Negativity Bias

I’ve heard a number of speakers in my professional field talk about “negativity bias.”  Those who have spoken about this in my presence include: Paul Gilbert, PhD, Shauna Shapiro, PhD, Rick Hanson, PhD, Linda Graham, MFT, among a few others.  I’m not dropping names for fun.  I realized the other day that although I’ve heard this numerous times, it is finally now sinking into this brain of mine. Hooray!

What is negativity bias?  It is an evolutionary, built-in way of being that brings negative experiences into our attention much more frequently and quickly than neutral or positive ones, AND, processing/rehashing/ruminating on the experiences lasts for some time.  Since we are primed for the negative and it is going to happen without our control and awareness, the radical suggestion is to consciously increase our awareness toward what’s positive, or at the very least, neutral.

An example from my own experience this morning:  I sat down on my cushion to meditate and part of my practice is to check-in with the body and notice what’s there.  Typically, I become quickly aware of tightness, tension, discomfort.  Today, I noticed that happening and gently guided myself to investigate what feels okay or pleasant.  I noticed some ease straight away.

In many moments during the day, we can make an effort to pause and reflect on what’s right in this moment, rather than what’s lacking or difficult.

Give it a go, if you’d like to do so and comment below to share with me about what is right with you at this moment.

Warmth and Friendliness

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a two day retreat with a focus on Metta.

Metta has, for many years, been translated as “lovingkindness” and that is how the concept is often taught.  While it has always sounded pleasant and lovely to me, I have struggled at times with the notion of being loving toward everyone.  If I am honest, not all beings are easy to be loving toward, at least in my experience.

The teachers of this retreat, Donald Rothberg and Heather Sundberg, offered a different and more current definition.  Apparently, some scholars who are well versed in Pali (the ancient language in which Buddhist text are written) have been revisiting the translations to investigate whether there is a better, more accurate word to capture the essence.  The translation offered to us was “warmth” and “friendliness.”  As I typed those words, I felt some ease and lightness in my heart.  I think it is easier to find a little warmth and friendliness toward even the most difficult person…. Love can be such an intense and convoluted concept.

The practice of Metta is a concentration practice.

The method of practice starts with extending warmth and friendliness toward ourselves; then toward a benefactor (anyone who has inspired or supported you); a good friend (could be a pet); a “neutral” person (see more below); a “difficult” person (see more below);  extending to  all beings in all directions.

There are many phrases that can be used while practicing Metta; the options for well-wishes are endless.  The four that evolved for me last week are:

May I be happy (replace “I” with “you” as the practice moves through different people)

May I be healthy.

May my life unfold simply and with ease.

May I be held in love.

While saying the phrases, I definitely notice my mind wandering off and thinking about something; totally normal;  just return to the phrases and continue.

 

I want to share a couple of thoughts on the “neutral” and ‘difficult” persons.

For a neutral person, the suggestion is to choose a familiar person but not someone you know well.  For example: a neighbor, a clerk at a store you frequent, the mail delivery person that you see around, etc.

The “difficult” person teaching was especially interesting and poignant for me.  Donald spoke about what makes someone difficult for us.  It really comes down to how we react.  If it is a negative reaction and experience, it is difficult.  Rather than acknowledging this and/or seeing the situation as difficult, we tend to point fingers and decide that we are dealing with a difficult person.  Wow!  This blew my mind.   Self-compassion and forgiveness can then be interwoven into the Metta practice.  This doesn’t mean that everyone gets “off the hook” and we become doormats.  We need to have healthy boundaries.  Also, if there is a difficult experience and we are working with it through Metta, Compassion and Forgiveness, this doesn’t mean that what has been done is condoned. Lily Tomlin is credited with the quote: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”  I think forgiveness holds some freedom.
Lastly about this; I also am a difficult person.  I think this is a helpful and useful reminder.  Each of us suffers and struggles.

 

My main practice has not been Metta focused and after this retreat, I don’t think it will be at this point.  However, I have begun to incorporate a few ways of practicing Metta, formally and informally.

During the first couple of minutes and the last couple of minutes of my sitting practice, I send Metta wishes to myself.  During the remainder of  the sit, if someone pops into my mind, I send them Metta.  If I notice that I’m quite consumed by thoughts/emotions, etc., I send a couple of rounds of Metta to myself and then resume noticing whatever is most prominent.

Informally, when I walk down the street, I send Metta to people I see, cross paths with, etc.  As I prepare to spend time with someone, I may send a couple of rounds of Metta to myself and to the person I am about to see.  I have found that this practice softens my heart and creates some delight in meeting the person.  Lovely!!

Another tidbit for practice:  throughout the day, ask yourself, “Where is my kind heart right now?”  No attachment, just checking in with what’s here.

Thank you for reading.
May your life unfold simply and with ease.

May you be held in love.

Wise/Right Speech

At the beginning of this calendar year,  my partner shared with me that one of his New Year intentions was to practice Wise/Right Speech. I am continuously amazed at his perception of the world and ideas such as this one.  I quickly agreed to also explore Wise/Right speech over this year and it has been a wonderful practice in awareness so far.

What is Right/Wise speech?  It is part of the Eight-fold Path, which is the Buddhist practice of living in such a way as to end suffering and achieve enlightenment.  Do I believe that this is the way for me?  I don’t know. (Stay tuned for a future blog in which I will share my thoughts on secular mindfulness vs. Buddhist meditation).  The purpose of Wise/Right Speech is to become aware and thoughtful in how we communicate with others and with ourselves.  The components include: being truthful/avoid lying, use kind speech/avoid abusive speech, don’t gossip/avoid idle chatter.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path#Right_speech).

Over the last few months, I have definitely become more aware of how I speak of others and the choice of words I use to communicate with others.  I think I have gossiped less and notice some negative feelings within me when I do speak of someone else, especially in an unkind way.  I have found myself pausing before I share some arbitrary event with my partner and recognize that I just want to create some sense of camaraderie.  There are other ways to connect.  This doesn’t happen all the time, of course.  I also notice more quickly when I am short or rude in my speech and am able to more quickly connect what’s happening within me with how I communicate.

I am starting to notice more often how my mind communicates with me: the anxiety stories, the harsh critic, the loving self, etc.  In the moments when I know it is just my mind doing its thing, I feel some more freedom from attaching to what my mind has chosen to ruminate over.

I read the following acronym somewhere, and I appreciate it.  I don’t know who the author is, so I apologize for not citing the source.

Before you speak, text, type…THINK:

Truthful (Is what I am communicating truthful?)

Helpful (Is what I’m communicating helpful?)

Important (Is what I’m communicating important?)

Necessary (Is it necessary?)

Kind (Are my words kind?)

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Listening

Several months ago, I experimented with listening to online talks offered by various teachers with whom I have practiced mindfulness meditation as well as a number of teachers who I have not yet met.

I enjoy this practice.  I choose a talk based on a topic or teacher and start it, going along my morning routine of brushing teeth, preparing breakfast, etc. while it is on.  At times it is in the foreground of my attention; other times in the background.  I firmly believe a part of me hears and takes in all the information.  Occasionally, I listen to a talk before falling asleep.  A listening practice of sorts as I drift off.

Below, I have shared three sites I use for the talks.  I know they’re available as an app/podcast for Apple products but am unsure for other devices.  If you have a non-Apple device and check these out, please leave in the comments below whether there is a mobile version for these.

I hope you find some of this useful:

http://dharmaseed.org/talks/  (available as an app)

http://www.audiodharma.org/  (available through itunes podcasts)

http://www.againstthestream.org/audio  (available through itunes podcasts)

 

Feelings

Hello you!

Feels pleasant to be back here, re-connecting with sharing about my mindfulness practice.  

A close friend of mine recently started a blog and it inspired me to revisit this space (thanks Mel!!!!)

I suppose I could outline the last number of months about what this practice has created/opened/developed within me…. 

I may do that later.  Right now, I want to share about something else.  I was at the Urban Dharma group a couple of weeks ago (part of the Dharma Punx nation: http://www.dharmapunx.com/index.asp) and Gene Lushtak spoke about something that resonated with me quite deeply.

During the sit, he encouraged us to pay attention to the feeling(s) we may be experiencing about another feeling.  At first, it was a bit abstract for my brain.  I felt grateful he elaborated.  Let’s say something happened in my life earlier today that created feelings of being upset.  I feel upset for sometime, maybe several hours.  After those several hours, If I can get really still, maybe I get a sense that there is something more besides that feeling of being upset within me.  I may realize that I am frustrated that this situation is still upsetting me.  In that specific moment, what is happening is that I feel frustrated.  The nuances are fascinating for me.

Another example from my life yesterday: at some point, I noticed I felt bored.  Actually, I realized I don’t even know what bored feels like because it is instantly covered and bombarded with “shoulds,” with guilt and with some sense of restlessness and almost desperation to feel something else immediately. 

I’ve been trippin’ out on this for a couple of weeks now.

Thank you for reading.  

Three

There are three ideas floating around in my head right now that I would like to share.

                                                          ~~~~~~~

I have been investigating the idea of using “I feel” and “I think” instead of “I am.”  For example, I feel hungry or I feel tired rather than I am hungry or I am tired.  I have been exploring whether such language allows me to be less attached and identified with these experiences.  

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Sending well wishes (Metta) toward someone when their name or image pops into my mind creates lots of love and warmth in my own heart.

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I have decided to once again reevaluate the relationship I have with my smartphone.  Current intention is to use my phone several times a day to check email, texts, etc., and dedicating that time to just use my phone, rather than using it as a filler while I’m waiting or on the bus or eating.  The idea is to bring more mindfulness into each activity and as much as possible get away from multitasking.  Mindful phone use – interesting.                                                   

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I appreciate you reading this at this moment.  Thank you for your openness and interest about the thoughts, feelings and sensations I choose to write about.

Half smile

I’ve been experimenting with practicing “half-smile” during my sitting practice.

I’m not entirely sure who gets original credit for this practice, perhaps Siddhartha Gautama (aka the OG Buddha), but many teachers mention this meditation.

Recently, I was encouraged to practice half-smile at a workshop I attended and it seemed to help me embody it more and I’ve been enjoying the attention of practicing it in the way I will describe to you below.

I invite you to try the practice using the instructions outlined.  Allow a minute or two for each step to ease into the practice.  Also, you can choose to do this in whatever way makes sense to you.

Sit in a comfortable, relaxed yet alert position.  Also, however you’re choosing to sit is quite alright. ;)

Close your eyes or lower your gaze.  Either of these helps us experience our internal world a bit easier.

Bring your breath into your awareness.

Bring attention to your body.  Notice any pleasant, unpleasant, neutral sensations.

Bring awareness to your face.  No need to change or alter anything.  Notice the natural shape/position of your mouth.  Bring awareness to your eyes and forehead.  Again, just noticing.

Now, I invite you to bring the corners of your mouth upward.  A slight, perhaps barely noticeable movement. No need to create a full smile.  Just a slight motion.

Keeping your mouth in this “half-smile,” bring awareness to your eyes and forehead.  Now notice your heart center.  Connect with your body once again.

Now, release your mouth and allow it to return to its natural shape again.  Notice your eyes, face, heart center and anything else that is prominent.

If you’re willing, please share your experience in the comment section.

 

Loving Breath

Next time you choose to pay attention to your breath (how about right now?), bring your heart center into your awareness as you inhale….notice whether there is any sensation there.  If you don’t notice anything, that’s okay.  There is not a right or wrong way to practice.  Sometimes, it takes me a few breaths to connect with my heart and discern what’s there.  Other times, the sensation is available on the first inhale.  I encouraged you to explore and investigate.

After a few moments focusing on the inhale, shift the attention to your exhale.  I suggest a slow and steady exhalation.  As you breathe out, feel the breath wash over your whole body, as if it was warm sunshine or that perfect water temperature in the shower.

I call this practice “loving breath.”  Each of us deserves as much love as we give to anyone else in this world.  Perhaps, a gift to the self could be a few moments of nurture with loving breaths.

Triumphant Return?

Impermanence is hard at work; all the time.

After a long break, I have found my way back to this blog…. for now.

I’ve also returned to a daily meditation practice…for now.

A few teachers I have sat with talk about how much is focused on “the meditator.”   One should sit this way, on this cushion, chair, etc., same time each day, commit to a certain amount of time, etc.  I may have mentioned this previously but a teacher I enjoy greatly, Vinny Ferraro often says, “However you’re sitting is spiritual enough.”  My sense is that my truth is somewhere in the middle.  I have committed to sitting for at least 10 minutes every day.  Sometimes, the practice happens in the morning, at home, on my cushion.  Sometimes, it’s during a break at work.  Occasionally, when I get home from work.  Sometimes, I sit for 30 minutes; sometimes 10.  I have found some ease and comfort in letting go of the rigidity around the practice.  I am amused by one more way my mind has created a condition.  It is quite funny, really.  

I have also begun a daily gratitude practice.  I was introduced to it by Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, PhD.  There are three steps:

1. Summarize what someone did that you are grateful for today.  

2.  How was it helpful to you?

3. How much effort did it require of the person?

I have found this to be a delightful amendment to the way in which I was already practicing gratitude.

Onward and upward!  

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