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.
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.
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!
A book I’m reading currently suggests the following as a practice:
For the rest of today try paying close attention to the beginning of your conversations with people. Noticing the intention, the first impulse to speak, attempting, when the impulse arises, to consciously stop and take one breath. Maybe two. Checking, without the need for self-criticism, the first impulse to express or make your point. Notice what happens in the mind, the sensations in the body, allowing yourself the room, the openness, to receive these internally arising messages while you maintain a listening silence.
Heal Thyself: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, Saki Santorelli
I’m exploring this idea. First step – remembering to try this out!! This is the intention for the next few days.
Over the last week or so, I have found myself being curious about my responses to situations, conversations, etc., rather than reacting from autopilot. Of course, this doesn’t happen all of the time, but a few times a day, I notice. I don’t have many positive or negative comments about what I have noticed; I’m just aware of the noticing. This is different for me, somehow.
Since this awareness is surfacing now, I have decided to add some intention to what I notice. I’ve begun two investigations within myself, an exercise in self-inquiry, if you will.
The first is a check-in with myself as soon as I wake up in the morning. I note how I am feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. This doesn’t take long for me, perhaps a couple of minutes. Then, I get out of bed and proceed with my day. When I return to the bed in the evening, I do another quick check-in and note how I’m feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. I suppose I could write down what I notice and track this somehow; at this time, I am not drawn to such a commitment. Instead, I have noticed that every time I check-in, some part is new and different. It doesn’t have to be pleasant or unpleasant, it could be neutral. Feeling “good” or “bad” becomes an intricate unfolding of what is really here. Quite curious.
The second practice involves the use of filler words: “like, um, you know” are my top three, I think. I am beginning to explore when my use of these increases and whether being mindful of what words I use may lessen the “need” for filler words. I was given fantastic feedback a couple of days ago that it has been noticed my usage of “like” increases when I’m driving. It makes sense that my brain is working hard while driving and talking. I am not striving to change or alter anything right now, just simply bringing some awareness to my patterns of speech.
The mind is a fascinating monkey to study and observe.
Every Wednesday, as part of the MBSR teacher training, I participate in a 90 minute mindfulness practice led by one of my fellow trainees.
Last week, I found my mind to be in the midst of what seemed like an intense ocean storm. The mind was racing, tumultuous, violent and all I could do was hang on as if I was on a ship riding out the waves. The practice consisted of almost constant noting and redirection back to the seat, the breath, the words of the teacher. As soon as I’d find my way to the present, my mind would be off again with a bigger wave, a bigger surge. Whew… It seemed relentless for 90 minutes. When I opened my eyes, I felt almost eerily calm. As if I had found my way to a peaceful beach and was now lounging while watching the waves gently move in and away from the shore.
When I got home, I realized I was exhausted! I slept hard and found myself needing a couple of extra hours of sleep.
The last few days have been more along the lines of what I have been used to noticing in my practice.
I cannot recall whether I’ve had this intense of a practice previously, and am curious, for those who practice, whether you have and what it has been like for you. Please share, if you’re willing. I’m also wondering if maybe I am becoming more aware of what is happening in my mind rather than numbing our or getting lost in the content.
What an experience!
I went to a meditation practice and talk recently led by a teacher I enjoy very much and look forward to attending the group when he is there. I like the simplicity of his instructions during the sit, e.g., “However you are sitting is completely spiritual enough.” He seems to understand and relate to the struggle and expectation that can come from exploring meditation and mindfulness and verbalizes the essence of this skillfully and with humor. I have appreciated this about him since the first time I sat with him (shout out to my friend Melanee for the intro to this group).
One of the things he spoke about was this notion of “if only.” The idea that in some future moment, we will find happiness or peace. If only I had this car, then I would be happy. If only I had a partner, then I would be happy. When I stop being angry, I will find peace. When I get a new job, things will make more sense. When my boyfriend and I are living together, then our relationship will really begin. While I think it may be the case that if/when any of the above is attained, we may indeed be happy or peaceful, etc.; the idea here is that while we are waiting for that next moment to arrive, and while we are living in the mirage that the next whatever will be better than the now, we are completely missing out on what is happening in our current experience. ”When we think some other moment holds what this one doesn’t, this is suffering.” Nothing that hasn’t happened is guaranteed. I find myself needing to be reminded of this in my own mind as I am in limbo and waiting for two big changes in my life to occur. It is almost certain that both will happen, but not guaranteed. I find myself frequently thinking the “if…only” scenario. This talk was a timely reminder of being aware of what is happening in my mind right now.
Sometimes, it is incredibly difficult to stay present, especially when there are negative thoughts, emotions, feelings, and/or sensations. It can feel intolerable and all we want to do is get away from it. The funny thing about how our minds work is that the more we try to run away from something, the more it tends to creep back in. The paradox seems to lie in leaning into the pain a little. There are things in my life that I want to lean away from, I definitely know that. I’m trying to work on exploring what it might be like to just entertain the idea of opening one of those doors and just peeking in to see what is there. It seems to be a delicate dance of opening the door and shutting it and perhaps opening it a little wider the next time around.
“For a long time, it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then, life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” ~ Alfred D’Souza
May you find happiness and peace in this moment.
Currently, my life seems to be busy and everyday is filled with a wondrous mixture of things I get to do. A while back, I started re-framing my statements of “I have to do…” into “I get to do….” I suppose it is a gratitude practice of sorts. I get to do laundry because I have clothes, a house, washing machine, running water, etc. It has helped me shift some of the perspectives I’ve held onto, and it is a nice reminder when I feel overwhelmed by “having” to do many things.
One of the activities I have recently begun is training to become a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher. Here is some basic information from the founding university (http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=41254). It feels like a natural transition and next step to combine my own practice in mindfulness with a way to teach it professionally. I love that my homework is to engage is mindfulness practice and mindful movement for at least 30 minutes every day. Heck yeah!!! I am also really excited and happy to share this teaching/training with family and friends. Yesterday, I led a couple of close friends through several of the practices and they both seemed to find usefulness and benefit in them, as well as providing me with useful feedback. My wonderful boyfriend has agreed to participate and I’m curious of his experience with this style of practice versus what he has been doing. This weekend, my parents have graciously agreed to be my “guinea pigs” as well and participate in my leading them through this practice. I am very happy to be sharing this with them for several reasons. I want my parents to have a better understanding about the things in my life that I am passionate about. I think having an opportunity to witness it firsthand is a positive way to share this information. I think my parents may find usefulness and benefit in this practice as well. I think everyone could. I am curious to share this experience with them (and hope my brother chooses to join us).
Since this is a practice, the suggestion is to engage in formal mindfulness practice for at least 15 minutes every day, with some informal mindfulness practices throughout each day. Informal practice may include anything, really; just bringing awareness to whatever is happening right now, externally, internally or both. Sometimes, I struggle with the daily commitment and this is one of the things I’m curious to learn more about, for myself and as a way to support people in my life who choose to experiment with adding this awareness practice into theirs.
I feel tremendous gratitude to be exactly where I am, right now.
I took a bit of a break from my formal meditation practice, a couple of weeks, and have resumed several days ago. This has been the nature of my practice since I began in 2007. I wrote about this in another blog (http://mindfulnessrocks.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/variable-environments/) and find it quite curious that two months have passed and I took a break from sitting. It’ll be interesting to see how much time passes until I choose to take another break.
I’ve heard mixed things about the necessity of continued practice. Some teachers believe that sitting daily is essential and no matter what, and especially if I don’t feel like it, I should sit. Others’ view suggest that there is enough suffering and to sit when it’s less than desirable or another “to do” item to be ticked off a list isn’t advisable. I tend to land somewhere between the two. Sometimes when I’m in a funk, I absolutely 100% commit my butt to that cushion. Other times, it doesn’t feel like the right way to spend my time in the morning , so I acknowledge that and check-in with myself the next day. There are so many ways in which informal practice has permeated my life that I have plenty of opportunities to practice throughout each day. For this, I hold immense gratitude.
One noteworthy factor I’ve become aware of is that whenever I choose to return to the cushion, whether every morning, or after a few days “off,” I am able to drop into a place of calm rather quickly (most of the time). I’m fascinated by this. It must be similar to physical muscle memory somehow. Mental muscle memory! I’m diggin’ it.
I invite you to find a way to strengthen your mental muscle.
It has been a while since I have posted anything. I am finding myself approaching this blog the same way I approach my meditation practice: when it starts to feel like one more thing I *have* to do, I know it’s time for a break. Perhaps, I subconsciously made this decision. Perhaps it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with being in transition as I adjust to a new job and a new schedule.
I feel like I have been on a bit of a roller coaster the last few weeks and I think the ride is potentially coming to an end, for now. I am thankful for this. I experienced a lot of hope, joy, frustration, gratitude, and love during this time. As I process the little journey, I have found a common theme: remaining fairly open to how things were unfolding and maybe even holding a little bit of equanimity with it all… if there was any of that, it was a sprinkle. THERE WAS A SPRINKLE!
Something about remaining open and life happening, exactly as it is supposed to, has been experienced with a few people I know, as well. I have this image of a flower slowly opening to full bloom. It just opens, exactly when conditions are right.
I listened to a talk by Noah Levine (check out Against The Stream podcasts on itunes) focused on the idea of letting go of wanting. He spoke about this notion that when we release the grasping, the clinging, the expectation that things *should* be a certain way, we become open to witnessing how things unfold. I have had this idea in my mind since the talk and am enjoying exploring and paying attention to how it occurs in my life. When I let go of wanting and allow myself to remain open, I have noticed that I am able to see more perspectives of a situation, interaction, experience, etc., a re-frame, if you will.
May you choose to allow yourself to explore being open, like a blooming flower.