Being a good friend is sometimes easy and filled with rewards and sometimes difficult and demands that we dig deep and find empathy or compassion for someone else’s shortcomings or difficult situation. We don’t often question our ability or willingness to be a good friend to others when things are easy, we just do it; we show up day by day and deliver what is needed in the moment. Sometimes we make the difficult choice of not being friends with someone, because there is a situation we can’t tolerate and we choose to walk away. But to be clear, we are walking away from our own intolerance. Being friends with our selves gets even less consideration! Though we’ve heard that age old saying, “be your own best friend”, do we practice it?

 

Meditation is a path to awakening that honest friendship within, that willingness to show up for yourself, not just when you’re happy and feeling good and life is easy, but especially when things are NOT good and life feels hard. To show up with interest and compassion and a willingness to stay with the difficulty, rather than to skip out, avoid, or reject yourself in hard times! It is a practice of staying close, even when everything in us wants to run away. It takes commitment and steadfastness and courage!

 

Pema Chodron says in her book, “Taking The Leap”, “we have the capacity to see ourselves honestly, and that takes courage, it is moving in the direction of seeing our life and it’s attendant problems as a teacher rather than a burden. This involves fundamentally learning to stay present, and learning to stay with a sense of humor, and loving kindness toward ourselves and the outer situation, with honest self-reflection.” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this “Making Friends With Ourselves”, this friendship is based on knowing all parts of ourselves without prejudice, it is UNCONDITIONAL FRIENDLINESS!

Meditation is a practice of learning to stay, through thick and through thin. And by doing so we connect with our own ‘natural warmth’ that we all have the capacity for, this ‘warmth’ is the basis for love and compassion. And the more we are willing to stay; we realize that we are ALL up against the same struggles. That just like me, other people feel pain and want it to go away. This insight has the potential to humble us and cause us to have more sympathy, we discover we are all in the same boat, and knowing this can make us very forgiving, both toward ourselves and others!

 

Pema says, “This is the spirit of delighting in what we see rather than despairing in what we don’t want to see.” It’s the spirit of letting compassionate self-reflection build confidence rather than becoming a cause for depression.” Being unconditionally friendly with you, your own built in BEST friend, ultimately makes you a better friend to others, a more authentic and honest friend!

 

So let’s practice our meditation today as an act of friendship toward ourselves knowing that it makes us a better friend toward others.   As we sit today think of how you listen to yourself, is it friendly? Are you harsh and critical with your self-talk? Would you talk that way to a friend? And if so, perhaps you need to make friends with your own intolerance first!

 

Find a comfortable position, take three deep breaths and begin….

The breath is the most important tool we have when meditating. By practicing paying attention to our breathing, and labeling the breath as it flows in and out, we can allow our mind to take a break from the ongoing stream of chatter that is running incessantly in our heads! Just the simple act of observing and labeling breathing is enough to feel an immediate sense of relief and peace!

We can go even further with the observation of breath, we can observe if it’s deep or shallow, fast or slow, if it feels like a lot of effort or effortless. The deeper we go with our observations the deeper our sense of relaxation goes! One observation I have made with observing the breath is that in the beginning it feels a bit like I am trying to control each inhale and exhale, it feels like a lot of effort just to breathe. But the longer I stay with it the more I relax into the simple automatic action of the breath itself. It doesn’t need me to be in charge. I won’t stop breathing simply because I stop trying so hard! This is a great metaphor and really a great “aha” moment that meditating give us! I don’t have to control life; it won’t stop if I don’t micromanage every moment of it!

 

As we continue to practice focusing on the breath, and begin to let go of control, we can get the sense of following the breath, like walking through a meadow and following a butterfly as it lands and flits from flower to flower. The beauty of it is that we can both observe and follow the breath, and we can feel the movement of breath in our bodies as it flows in and out. This is the next great gift our breath gives us in meditation.   It teaches us that we can closely and gently follow the flow of life and we can feel it happening in our bodies at the same time, we have a deeper sense of connection to our life with ease instead of effort, which is always comforting and what most of us long for.

 

The next deeper layer of awareness as we practice following the breath is where we begin to notice the spaces between the breaths, particularly at the end of the exhale and just before the next inhale begins! It is a bit like watching the ocean as the waves gather volume, rolling and peaking and arcing and then breaking and flowing to shore where all the energy spreads out and dissolves! There is a moment where the water washes ashore and before it flows back out to gather energy for the next wave that there is a gap, a pause, a small subtle moment where nothing is happening. This is the same with the breath, as you follow it, noticing when the breath begins to build as you inhale, peaks at the top of the inhale and arcs and releases to the exhale completely emptying out into a space where there is stillness in both your mind and body.

We can learn a lot from this stillness, we know its temporary but we know we will return there again and again just as the waves continue to build and flow.

We also learn that that stillness is both within us, and working in the nature of things around us all the time. We can begin to observe the flow and rest in the stillness that is our true nature and that of life with a little less control and resistance and find the peace we’ve been looking for!

 

 

lori-6Often when I meet people who want to learn to meditate they are looking for an escape from the stress of life. They regard meditation as a healthier form of MEDICATION, like taking an aspirin when we have a headache!

It might be daunting for them to learn right up front that meditation is more a practice of being with their lives EXACTLY as they are, with all the attendant chaos, but with a NEW way of relating to it.

 

Meditation might even be better if it were called RELATING because it is truly a practice of relating to what is happening in the moment, including how we habitually wander away from the moment, noticing where we are unable to connect or relate at all, more comfortable in the busy monkey mind than the moment at hand! It’s funny because the more I learn about meditation and all the benefits; I think somehow we humans have been wired completely backwards. Why aren’t we happy with the way things are? Why are we constantly seeking relief? How has life become so intolerably difficult that we need to medicate instead of Relate? Was it always this way!? I can tell you that one thing Meditation has done for me is to make me incessantly curious and inquisitive about life rather than having some absolute sense of what it’s all about. And this in and of itself has been a huge relief! So much of our stress comes from feeling like we have to know, we have to be sure, we have to figure it out, and we have to make it better than it is!!

 

Meditation in it’s simplest form is a practice of RELATING TO BEING, no doing, no planning, just releasing our attachments to all of the accomplishments and simply experiencing. In Zazen, the sitting meditation practice from the Zen tradition, the entire process is about simply sitting there trying to allow yourself to focus on what is here and now. The posture, the breathing are the anchor points, the little touchstones of awareness that remind us we are “here” and then there’s that always meddling monkey mind that detaches from the moment and busies itself with memories and fantasies. The word Zen means “unrestricted” or “free”, so the point at which we can become completely present, loosely concentrated on each moment as it unfolds we feel a complete liberation of the mind, an UNRESTRICTED mind that is no longer bound by the fears and frustrations and plans of life!

 

The idea of “practice” is that we are simply devoting a period of time each day to notice how we RELATE with our senses, with our attention and to free ourselves from DOING anything. Once we are willing to practice this new way of relating for 20 minutes a day, we are sharpening our relating skills for the rest of what our day holds. Think how handy this might come in when faced with conflict or a difficult decision that triggers our emotions but requires contemplation and consideration before reacting! We might have more creativity in the way we respond, more acceptance of life as it is and fewer regrets!

 

So today our practice is first about sharpening the tools of awareness and relating to life, and then we can step off our cushion and bring these tools with us into life. To stay centered in our bodies, listening to our breath and observing life through our eyes and ears. Saying less, doing less, experiencing more and seeing that life is already full of wonder and surprises and a joy to relate to!

 

Begin by finding a good seat…notice how you are sitting, are you leaning to one side or too far forward. We do the body scan to explore this seated posture, not as a way to prepare for meditation but as THE WAY to meditate with the body itself. Close your eyes, take a long slow deep breath into the body. Notice where the body rises and expands on the inhale and where it contracts on the exhale. Notice how the breath feels going into the nostrils and then coming back out. How does your mind RELATE to your breath and your body? Does it immediately move to analysis and criticism? Move the breath and awareness into your feet. How do you relate to your feet? Can you simply feel them without thinking about them in some way? Then move your awareness into your ankles, shins and calves. Are they touching something, can you feel the air on your skin or is it covered with fabric. Your awareness can relate both from the inside and the outside! Move that awareness into your knees and up into your thighs and feel the heaviness of the legs. Notice if there is pain or discomfort and let yourself go deeper into feeling and relating to these sensations without making them mean anything. Continue to move up into your hips, your low back, your belly and the floor of the pelvis. You can feel the warmth from deep within and instruct yourself to let that warmth expand by releasing the muscles in your stomach and lower back.   Feel the diaphragm expand and contract as the lungs fill and empty. Soften the skeleton around these muscles and organs and feel the heart rise in the chest as the shoulders slide down the back. Your awareness is really sharpening now, focusing in to the limitless and dynamic nature of the body. Let your collarbones spread wide, your shoulders slide down your arms until you can feel the pulse of life in your hands and fingertips. Soften the jaw, let the teeth part, notice the immediate release of the mind, and the face releasing the mask of its last assessment. Finally as you reach the top of your head, you might imagine that the crown of the head lifts and opens as if it is holding up the sky! This is the constant in your practice. Your body is always here alive and flowing with blood and breath and you are free to relate to it anytime. As you stay connected to the body awareness you can expand your mind to include your breath. You can track the inhale and the exhale as it flows. You can even mark the flow of breath by labeling each one, calling its name, “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breath back out. Gently quietly, internally relating to life, your life. Everything else is happening outside of this experience, even your thoughts leave the body to wander in a world of its own, that you have manufactured and constructed. Put the hammer of thinking down. Release yourself, Free yourself to simply be enough.

When the monkey mind wanders off reach out with your mind and draw it back to the body and the breath by saying to yourself “here”, “I am here” and recenter your relationship to what is here and now!

Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Meditation is a practice of beginners mind. It is a study of life as it unfolds, a study of our bodies, and our minds, both in the moment and in it’s conditioned response, the wandering, the worrying, the planning, the reactions. When we meditate we open a space of observation to witness whether we are “here or there”! In the beginning, it is fascinating, (or for some frustrating) to find that we are more often there than here, but with practice and a regularly renewed commitment we will eventually gain more mastery over recognizing and making a choice of where we want to be.

The thing that makes this difficult is our busy-full minds. We have been feeding this mind machine all our lives, every thing we’ve learned, every thought and every experience has been stored in our minds and stress, anxiety, overwhelm, even chronic illnesses are a sign that it’s time to clean out, recycle, dump, let go of and wipe clean this container and give ourselves a chance to feel what it’s like to not be operating at capacity all the time. The interesting thing is that this begs the question, is emptiness our natural state of being/awareness? Does our mind that we have filled to capacity have a core state that was empty at one time? Perhaps this is why when we do things like meditate or other activities that empty the mind we feel enormous relief.

A good analogy for meditating is like cleaning out your garage! We open the garage door and stand outside of it and see all the junk that we have packed in there for so many years. We can feel our breath change as the sense of overwhelm hits us, but we don’t have to go in there yet, we can stand our ground and simply breathe until that feeling settles within us, even resolves and transforms into the next feeling and the next. As we learn to deal with our feelings first instead of our thoughts our energy rises and suddenly we feel curious about what is in each box, each pile and can sort through it all CHOOSING what we want to keep and what we can let go of.

When we meditate we are practicing noticing, the breath-by-breath awareness of the new, the presence and the passing away of each moment. In fact the breath is the perfect guide to living in the moment, to riding that wave of impermanence.
A New Year brings with it the opportunity to give ourselves permission to let go and head out into the unknown of the future with some excitement, even with renewed plans, hopes and aspirations! Let’s make a New Years resolution together that we will practice allowing and accepting life as it unfolds by simply breathing in the new and breathing out the old, moment-by-moment, embracing and releasing this precious life by truly participating in it. Honoring it with our attention, blessing it with our breath, and even opening our hearts to all the possibilities that come with that!

The Practice –

Find a comfortable position with your back supported. It really is okay to be comfortable; this is not a punishment, or some austere challenge against you. It is very common in meditation class that beginners are worried about sitting in the “right way”, putting themselves in a state of tension and awkward unnatural positioning because they think that is what meditation is all about. On the contrary, it is about finding your natural self underneath all the tension. Noticing who you are, how you feel, underneath all the concepts and expectations. So I say, begin by being comfortable enough to just let go, let yourself be held, supported and relax into your body and breath.

Let your hands rest in your lap, unclasped, open palms either up or down. Lower your chin just slightly until you feel the back of your neck lengthen and the top of your head stretch toward the sky. Begin with three deep breaths, slowly and deeply breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth to signal to the body and the mind that you are settling in for the ride.

Move the breath through the body starting at the feet, this scan helps you tune into the sensations that are present now and your relationship to them. Breath into your feet, then up into your ankles, taking your time, using each breath to stop feel into the space and then move naturally on the next breath. Breathe into your shins and calves, your knees thighs and hips. Fill your low belly and low back with breath and release it on the exhale, softening as you go. Feel your sides, your ribs and middle back expand with breath, your chest and even under your arms. Widen your collarbones and release your shoulders down your arms and into your hands. Feeling the weight and sensations of your fingers. Soften your jaw as you breath, parting the teeth slightly, roll the eyes down softly toward the floor and feel the scalp and hair and back of the neck as your breath softens and flows naturally.

This is the moment. Each breath you take marking a spark of something new and a release of something old. Allow yourself to be with it, to follow it, to flow with it. When you feel yourself contracting with discomfort or wandering away from this flow, just gently bring yourself back, by deepening a breath, resettling back into this moment, and saying silently to yourself, “here”, on each breath, “I am here”.

Try setting a time for about 10 minutes at first, using the time to get settled in to your body and then to do the breathing and the body scan. Once you settled “in” let yourself just BE, follow the breath and feel the moments of flow and the moments of resistance.

Wishing you peace and ease –
Lori at OM

Obviously there are more than 3 qualities that make up being a human, but in the world of mindfulness practices (like meditation) there are 3 very important qualities that we can get to know better and even employ when we most need them. But first we must practice getting to know them better!

These three qualities are Natural Intelligence, Natural Warmth and Natural Openness! According to Pema Chodron in her book Taking The Leap, “the potential for goodness exists in all beings, that is acknowledging that everyone, everywhere, all over the globe has these qualities and can call on them to help themselves and others”!

Well it isn’t that difficult to acknowledge these qualities exist in ourselves but when it comes to other people, that’s where we begin to get stuck. Especially in the face of so much political opposition and global strife!
Like all good acts though, working with these human qualities begins with us, with the individual. Generally speaking when something triggers us, some experience that generates our anger or fear, it is very difficult to tap into these so called “good” qualities. In fact the sheer force of energy associated with anger or fear can sweep us into a raging river of thoughts, words and actions that might in the moment feel like a relief but ALWAYS leave us feeling the aftershocks. Then we are stuck carrying the memories and deep emotional feelings of the upset, and we can disappear into an endless train of thoughts, replaying the situation over and over and even strategize how we might have done things differently, all the while getting swallowed up by the stress of a past experience.

When we use Mindfulness to access these basic human qualities it is like pressing a PAUSE button, to take a moment, a breath, and notice how we are feeling, only then can we begin free ourselves from the habitual chain reaction!
The first quality is called Natural Intelligence. When we learn to meditate we are using our natural intelligence to make choices, to decide to sit, focus on our breathing and learn to pause and even let go of the stream of thoughts constantly playing in the back of our minds. We also use our basic intelligence when we are caught up in a big reaction to something, if we are able to take that PAUSE, our intelligent mind can say, Whoa, wait, you’re going down a road you’re going to regret, STOP< LISTEN<BREATHE!!

The second is Natural Warmth, this is the moment where we use the quality of our hearts to embrace the moment we fall into reaction, the part of us that is starting to feel really lousy that we are getting swept away by anger or fear or any of it’s tributaries. To pause and be kind to ourselves, gentle, compassionate and even forgiving takes a lot of heart! We do this by first pausing, take in a big Breath, and apply the warmth and willingness of the heart!
The 3rd quality of being human is called Natural Openness. This might be the hardest one, because it is about extending all of the intelligence and warm-heartedness out, toward the person or situation that is setting you off in the first place. That openness is a PAUSE that says, hmm, perhaps that person or situation has these same qualities as I do, that same ability to fly off the handle and judge and fight, but also the same ability to use intelligence to pause, warmth to understand, and as we do that we open to the potential for change and growth in every situation. Giving others and ourselves the Benefit of the Doubt!!!
So mindfulness meditation is a practice in relating to these basic human qualities first in ourselves through our relationship to our thoughts while we are just simply sitting here. Noticing how many things trigger us, even if it is a fly that keeps buzzing by our nose! As we cultivate the intelligence to see how our thoughts run away and use the warmth of the heart to gently bring ourselves back to the present moment where we can pause and rest in the breathing, a natural part of us opens to our experience and notices that each moment changes. Each moment contains the potential for change.

This is a great practice if you are in a conflict yourself, you can even try it in this practice today, simply think of a person or situation you are in conflict with and notice immediately the thoughts and feelings that start to arise in you. Then use your natural intelligence to say, “hey that’s just thinking” and PAUSE, BREATHE, feel the warmth of your own heart while you’re sitting there and open up a little, imagine that each inhale is an embrace and each exhale is a widening of the space for you to let go, change and grow!!

The practice:
Find a comfortable sitting position, a chair or couch is fine, it’s nice to have your back supported and not be straining in anyway. Let your hands rest in your lap and close your eyes. Start with 3 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth very slowly. This allows the nervous system to slow down and tells the brain you are “going in” for a little while! Then allow the breath to flow naturally in and out of the nose and notice the quality of the breath, is it fast or slow, deep or shallow? Notice the temperature of the air and give yourself permission to let go of control and just become the observer or witness of the breath, like you are watching it from a close distance. You can take a few breaths and label them “inhale and exhale” silently to help refocus your mind anytime during the meditation. Once you have settled down a bit more, let yourself just sit and feel your experience. Your mind or your body or both will start to get distracted or agitated and this is your big opportunity to use your natural intelligence, warmth and openness! Inhale deeply as if you are embracing the feeling of being distracted or irritated and as you exhale imagine you are giving it space, more room for those feelings to be, just as they are without judging them or trying to make sense of them through your mind. After a few breaths like this, an embrace and making space, that feeling will dissipate and something else will take it’s place. You will see how transient everything is and that you only feel stuck when you are holding onto it. Allow yourself a little time each day to sit and to learn to just let things “BE” with some acceptance and openness. You will find that your ability to be with even the most irritating situations will get easier, your patience will grown and your willingness to let go will feel as if you have set yourself free!!

Wishing you peace along your way!
Lori at OM

Sitting in meditation is an exercise in trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As human beings we have been conditioned toward wanting to be comfortable all the time, physically and emotionally. We measure our happiness and success by how comfortable we are and we strive endlessly for more. What we may not realize is our endless addiction to comfort has actually made us more stressed, impatient, intolerant, and judgmental and keeps us from being connected to the present and experiencing life as it is.

But what of happiness, is it possible to be happy when we are uncomfortable? Are we willing to be uncomfortable and see if we find happiness, or patience, compassion and even acceptance within our discomfort? This is where meditation comes in. The benefit of training yourself to stay on the spot even when you are uncomfortable, to be the observer and to wait patiently develops the quality of attention that can change your whole experience of your life from one of striving to one of accepting. It makes sense that happiness naturally abides in accepting things.

Meditation is an opportunity to discover what we are truly made of, without striving to “be something” other than what we are! Do we have an inner source of gentleness and kindness and caring? Are we born with a natural reservoir of happiness and content? In traditions that use meditation as a path of self-discovery, the idea is that, these qualities are already in our nature and we have somehow forgotten them in the race for comfort, that by struggling and striving we have lost touch with ourselves.

When we meditate we sit in a place of observation of how things are and notice how our minds react to everything, with thoughts and impulses driving us to act for or against what we observe. As we continue to practice staying with the breath and learn to interrupt the patterns of thoughts and reactions, we begin to notice that a lot of our discomfort exists in our minds and not so much in what’s happening in the present moment. As we continue to follow the breath and observe the body sensations we might find discomfort, sometimes even pain and by tuning into it and tapping into our natural source of attention and with patience, we might find a small adjustment like loosening the jaw, or softening the belly or extending the spine alleviates the pain.
Its all well and good to observe when things are but the big challenge comes when it doesn’t alleviate that pain and discomfort. Can we sit with it and work on letting it be and access that inner place of gentleness and kindness and caring towards how we really feel in that moment. Meditation then is an act of tuning into to our essential selves that exist underneath all the striving for comforts and feel good experiences and can embrace wholeheartedly the full range of our human experience. The benefits then can be an easier going, flexible, open way of being with life, a flow between comfort and discomfort, meeting it all with the same gentle awareness and acceptance.

The Practice –

Sit with your back supported and let your legs be heavy and your feet grounded on the floor if you’re sitting on a chair. If you like to sit on the floor, prop your hips up higher than your knees so your back doesn’t get too tired.
Let your hands rest in your lap, lower your chin slightly and soften your jaw. Allow your gaze to rest on the floor in front of you, or close your eyes, whichever you like.

Begin by taking 3 deep breaths in through the nose and out slowly through the mouth. Then allow the breath to shift to your nostrils, observing how the breath feels going in and out. Just witness it and try not to change it but allow your mind to follow it in and out. If your body feels uncomfortable anywhere try moving your mind and your breath more deeply into that spot and imagine filling that area with breath and watching the tension empty as you exhale. Be patient, if it doesn’t change, let it be what it is. If the pain or discomfort doesn’t go away right away notice how your mind wants to get into the mix and start commenting on what a terrible experience your having! See if you can stay with the breath, let the thoughts go, and fill the space with breath, then empty the space, just minding your breath and allowing things to be exactly as they are. After a few breaths see what has changed.
Continue this practice anywhere from 6-18 minutes. Set a timer for 6 minutes and if you feel like you can go longer, do another 3 minutes, increasing by 3 minute increments as you feel ready. This is a great practice for developing concentration and gentle abiding in an uncomfortable situation without having to do anything about it!

Wishing you peace along your way! Lori

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “dharma” lately. It keeps popping up in books I’ve been reading, or more and more frequently I will hear someone say, “oh I’m following my dharma”, in reference to some job or project they are doing that is in service or their passion! I always took it to mean “a spiritual path”, some divine course of action. It seemed that following one’s “dharma”, was something special, and one would be lucky to find it in this life. That’s a nice set up for never feelings satisfied until we find our “dharma”, it seemed something to achieve, to aspire to, to compete with, not at all a very spiritual pursuit.

So I decided rather than skimming over it for the 100th time, assuming I understood it’s meaning, I would look it up! Here’s what I found;
Noun – Hindu or Buddhist
1. Virtue
2. Religion
3. Essential quality of one’s own nature

The first two seemed very straightforward, but the last one, that really jumped out at me. What intrigued me was that it meant we ALL have it already, there is nowhere to go, no secret path that only a special few will find. It is OUR OWN TRUE NATURE!

Meditation is a wonderful path to recognizing it, or what some refer to as ‘a practice of waking up and remembering ourselves’, by getting quiet enough to experience it just as it is. The first steps of meditation we learn to practice listening to and paying attention to this nature. We focus on the breath, the vibrations and sensations of the body, sounds and smells. Then there is THINKING of course, that never-ending internal monologue commenting on everything whether important or not! This one derails us constantly, it is the thing that most gets in the way of experiencing our true nature and focuses on our conditioning instead. It is a case of Nature vs. Nurture, if you will. All of our thinking and behavior are reactions to what is happening at any given moment. But do we have to think; do we have to act on every thought? What if we just took another breath, and waited it out and shifted our focus back onto the nature of our own being, breathing, and heart beating.

Perhaps we would notice that we are separate from the stuff happening around us and in our thinking mind, and get more in touch with what is happening within. We have a perfectly harmonious heartbeat, a sublimely balanced breath, even our brainwaves are relatively nonplussed, but for the reactions to outer stimuli. What is this quality that underlies all the stimulus and reactions? As you practice meditation, know that it is the path home, to the QUALITY OF YOUR OWN TRUE NATURE, the DHARMA, and all you have to do is sit there!!

The Practice –

Find a comfortable sitting position. You can have your back supported and cushions to raise your hips higher than your knees to alleviate any back pain. Let your hands rest softly palms down on your thighs and take a deep breath in through the nose, noticing what it feels like. Does it take an effort, is your nose clogged or clear? Then breathe very slowly out of your mouth, blowing softly through parted lips and noticed the sensations as the air comes through the skin. Do this 3 times to start your practice, it is a signal to the brain and the nervous system that you are going in!

Allow the breath to move in and out of the nostrils and notice all the qualities of the breath, the temperature, where it touches inside the nasal cavity and throat as it moves into the body. And how different it is going back out. Concentrate your attention here for a few breaths, then move the breath down into your legs and feel the weight of them, see if you can let go a bit. Move the breath and awareness into your torso, softening the belly, the heart and the shoulders as you move upwards, noticing the tendency toward tension as you go. Feel the difference between your natural state of rest vs. your conditioned state of tension. Soften the jaw and slightly lower your chin and let your eyes roll down either gazing softly at the floor or closing them. Feel your scalp, the back of your neck, your ears and hair. All of this awareness is there, whenever you choose to focus on it instead of getting carried away by thoughts. If you do get carried away, which you will, as the mind is simply doing the job you conditioned it to do, just bring yourself back by saying silently to yourself, “remember me” and touch in on the breath and body again. You can deepen your awareness by noticing sounds and smells as well, always lightly returning from your wandering mind to your natural state, your own true nature, your dharma!

Practice for 3-18 minutes, whatever works for you and try it daily if you can and let me know how it goes!!

Wishing you peace along your way –

Lori with a little OM at Home

Meditation is a tool, a practice for learning how to be in the big squeeze of life and to ride it out, as if on a wave. Just like being on a wave there are moments of uncertainty, and with practice you find if you stay, the wave will pass and the next will come. Meditation is a way of living in the uncertainty and impermanence of what the next moment holds and experiencing all the conditioned responses we have to wanting to get out of there, to predict the moments, control the moments, avoid the moments. When we practice being mindful of the moment by moment unfolding of experience by focusing on the breath and senses without judgment or meaning making, we learn to stay. We experience that everything has a beginning, middle and end, and then spins into the next experience.

 

Life is filled with opportunities to ride those waves, especially when we experience the big squeeze! When are our moments of the big squeeze? When we think we know something and it turns out to be different than what we perceived. When we are trying to be caring, kind and patient and someone comes along who triggers all our anger, impatience or judgment.   When we practice meditation we can have all the same experiences just sitting there, and instead of abandoning the practice to do something that feels better, we can breathe and wait it out and see what happens next. It takes a lot of practice and repetition to develop a habit, that is why we call meditation “practice” because we are meant to repeat it over and over again, as life unfolds in so many unpredictable ways, each day of practice there is something new to discover about our old habits, and the ways we have practiced coping with the things that squeeze us and make us feel so much tension and stress. We can begin to replace the old habits of reaction with the new habits of patience, waiting, breathing, and riding the wave.

 

PRACTICE:

 

Find a comfortable sitting position, (even on a surf board sitting out waiting for waves)! Lengthen your spine and extend the crown of your head to the sky, while the tailbone drops and the belly softens. Soften your jaw and let your teeth be parted, this really helps when we are feeling squeezed as we tend to clamp our jaw together. Let the eyes gaze softly ahead or close your eyes and feel the temperature and sensations of the body and the air around you.

Take 3 deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, exhaling very slowly. Then allow the breath to flow naturally in and out of the nose and “label” the breaths, “inhale” and “exhale” as you go for a minute or too, to refine your focus to the task at hand.

Begin to scan the body, from the feet to the top of the head, moving as slowly or quickly as you like, just connecting the breath and the body with awareness. As you focus on different body parts you will experience sensations, vibrations, temperature and weight. This is a great place to anchor your thoughts, as each time they float away, which they will, you have something solid to bring them back to. Each time a distraction, a thought, comes in you will experience the squeeze, the desire to follow it or to run away from it, the absorption in it. When you catch yourself being squeezed just ride it out….sit, breath, label, connect with your body…float, in and out, practice.

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I’ve been reading a great little book called “Meditation in Action” by Chogyam Trungpa.   I landed on a chapter about all the experiences of life being used like manure to cultivate the seeds of our growth as human beings!

 

Very often when I meet people who want to learn to meditate they are in a state of overwhelm and are ready to drop all the baggage that comes with this life. We all experience a lot of stress and even chaos and feel like there is no time to process it all let alone rest. So for the most part people come to meditation with the idea that we are going to be able to shut off all this stress and arrive in some place that is perfectly tranquil and quiet. I try to let people know they could be setting themselves up for disappointment or at the very least a very frustrating meditation. A willingness to go through the baggage in a ‘mindful’ way to get to the peace is more realistic.

A key function of our mind is to think, and if we don’t have something pressing to think about in the moment, the mind calls up thoughts, concerns, ideas and plans from the past or the future, that is it’s job. The stress comes from how this all feels; stress, anxiety, fear, regret! Meditation practice is about cultivating the ability to stay with the feelings and reduce the focus on the thoughts. By doing so we can sort through the feelings as they arise and maybe even empty the baggage! In the end the feelings get processed fairly quickly and at the bottom of that is the peace and tranquility!

 

The message in this little chapter reminded me that we could use our meditation as a process of turning the stuff of life into fertilizer for what we want to create. And that by using this quiet time in meditation and contemplation to learn how to be with all the outcomes, all the residue of experience just as it is and not reject or avoid those feelings, that we can grow our patience, understanding, compassion and acceptance! By doing so we have all of these qualities to pass on in life, and this is how we take meditation into action!

 

The Practice –

 

Find a comfortable spot to sit. A chair, a sofa, a bed, or cushions on the floor, as long as you feel comfortable. It is nice to have your back supported as well. Let your hands rest in your lap, one open palm on the other or on your thighs. Take 3 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and blowing as slowly as you can out of the mouth. As you do so you can feel your nervous system settling down. Allow the breath to move in and out of the nostrils and notice the temperature and speed and depth of the breath without trying to change or judge anything, just feeling it. You can “label” silently the “inhale” as you breathe in and the “exhale” as you breathe out.

 

Hang in there, things will start to slow down in the body, but the mind might still be racing along. Allow yourself to focus on your thoughts for a moment, and when you can catch the general idea of what you are thinking you can “label” it, “thinking”, “wandering”, “manure”, just pick one and stick with it during this meditation. Once you have labeled it, then turn your attention back to your inhale and exhale and say to yourself, “here”. You will see after a few minutes that you can detach from the thoughts themselves and focus on the task at hand. Training the mind to come back to the moment-by-moment experiences and feelings. Breathe, stay, and commit to returning from the wandering for about 10-20 minutes.

When you have finished, take a few deep breaths again, imagining the breath rising up the back of the spine on the inhale and down the front of the spine on the exhale.

It’s a practice, each time you do it, you will have a moment of realization, of your habits and patterns as they come into your awareness and then break up! Don’t forget there is peace and tranquility underneath it all just waiting for you to pay attention!!

Wishing you peace – Lori at OM!

Not doing my meditation practice is nothing short of falling off the wagon for me.  I found out the hard way recently when I temporarily ‘fell off the ‘cushion and stopped meditating.   I had all the right excuses of being too busy to squeeze in my daily meditation.  The days turned into a couple of weeks and though I was noticing a sharpness coming back to my edges, a shorter sense of tolerance, impatience and loss of all things easy-going fading into the distance it somehow seemed easier to just keep pushing and being pulled into old habits!  Our “coping mechanisms”, what we like to call our personalities, that old “oh that’s just the way I am”, (better known as excuses or justifications for acting a certain way), comes in making us temporarily numb.

I knew I had gone too far when I had a complete meltdown, in front of my Mother, my kids, some friends, and even a few people I didn’t know all over getting lost, in the dark, in the rain, out of gas and no GPS!  Really as each moment unfolded and I became more anxious, more distressed, more angry with myself and the people who kept giving me the wrong directions, or the lack of street signs, or good lighting, or the fact that my GPS on my iPhone kept telling me “no directions available”, I was livid, and coming apart at the seams.  I eventually found my way, made it home, everyone survived except my ego of course, which was in tatters.  I was mad at the world, but really mostly at myself for falling apart like that.

The next morning I got up, reached for my Kindle and found my way back to the basics with Pema Chodron’s wonderful book, “How to Meditate, A Guide to Making Friends with your Mind”!  Within moments I was able to let myself off the hook and everyone else and realized immediately that these old habits do die hard and making new ones that become healthy knee jerk reactions will take as much practice as I’ve given the old ones.  That reassured me that returning to the basics once again was always a good place to be. I’m feeling back to my old self again, lighter, a little easier going, a sense of humor towards my frailties and compassion with others.  It’s a simple little practice with very big rewards, a daily dose of Sitting, Breathing, maybe Journaling a bit if my mind is too busy, and then doing it again the next day and the next, taking to the cushion one day at a time.

The Practice –

Find a comfortable place to sit with support for your back and knees.  A cushion, a chair, a relaxed upright position is the best to keep yourself from falling asleep and to train the mind that this is an awakened aware state of mind!  Have a journal next to you with a pen or pencil incase your mind is really full and you need to “empty the container”!

Start with 3 deep breaths in through the nose and slowly out through the mouth to prepare the body and mind and bring your awareness into the breath.  Then allow the breath to flow in and out of the nostrils, noticing the temperature and quality of the breath.  Perhaps it is deep or shallow.

You are becoming the observer of the function of breath, the wandering mind, the sensations of the body, taking it all in and not getting lost in any one area for long.  Being the observer allows you to sort of orchestrate things as they are coming up.  If you feel tension in your back you can notice it, breathe into it and hang out with it until you notice something changes or something distracts you.  It is bound to happen, and quickly.  We are easily distracted and our reactions are lightening quick.  As we practice sitting, noticing, observing, occasionally reminding ourselves that we are breathing by labeling the “inhale and the exhale” as they happen, we develop more skill at interrupting the patterns as they arise.  If we are scared, angry, frustrated, or lost, we can experience it from the point of view of the observer and ride the breath, be patient with it, instead of getting completely swept away by it and sort of losing our minds!

Practicing meditation then becomes an ability to come back to the moment to catch our self falling off the cushion, it’s a sobering moment of, “OH wait, I was getting completely swept away by some reaction in my mind, but I can stay right here and breath through it and see what happens next”!

Good luck and don’t worry, like me you can just get right back up on the cushion and try try again!