Tag Archives: mindful meditation

19 Things I Learned from Tara Brach #meditation

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God did not give me sisters. What I got were amazing female cousins.

Yesterday, I went to a “daylong retreat” in Rockville, MD, with one of those cousins. I adore her. As is true of any worthwhile relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs, but when you’re family, when you share bloodlines and interesting aunts and uncles (or your parents are those interesting aunts and uncles), there’s a shorthand that simply can’t ever be mimicked by a non-bloodline relationship — because of the genetics, we both understand when the other is fearful of falling apart.

She gets me and I get her.

I truly don’t know what I’d do without her.

In October, she asked me if I were interested in going to hear Tara Brach speak at a daylong retreat.

Five days before Thanksgiving.

I couldn’t imagine saying no. First, I love spending time with this cousin (as I do all of them), and secondly, a day, eight hours in almost total silence without children? Without homework fights? Without laundry? Sign me up. So I did. I signed me up.

Tara Brach is an award-winning author, a meditation specialist (that sounds weird), a practicing Buddhist, and psychotherapist with more than 35 years experience in the field of stress management, grief and loss, anxiety treatment and other issues we face as carbon-based, earth-bound creatures on this planet.

It was glorious and healing and also a fair amount of spiritual / energetic Work (with a capital W). There were 225 of us in the center hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville and from my seat looking out the enormous windows I watched the sun begin its ascent through the trees on my left and then begin its descent set through more trees on my right. It was a special event and I encourage anyone to take advantage of Tara’s proximity to us in the DC area. We practiced seven meditations in all.

The event offered eight hours of amazing self-awareness and self-acceptance opportunities. We meditated, journaled, shared, commented, listened and rested. I took them all in. My brain and mind wandered of course, “When’s lunch?” “How long have we been at this one?” “Lots of people start coughing after the first 5 minutes…” For $75 in cash I gained peace of mind, humbling wisdom and self-love, connection with my intuition, allowance and self-forgiveness and love of The Other.

If you ever have a chance to listen Tara Brach live, do it. Just … do it. If you don’t know her, buy one of her books.

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Tara opened the event, after tuning in with the breath, with a reference to my favorite poem of all time. “The Guest House” by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet. This is the poem:

this being human is a guest house.
every morning a new arrival.

a joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

welcome and entertain them all!
even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

the dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

After that I knew I was “home.” I had just meditated on that poem not 24 hours beforehand.

We were off to the slow races. Who could get there last was the goal. Tara invoked the poem, specifically saying “yes” to our darker emotions, a few times throughout the day.

Here is a list of 18 things I learned from Tara Brach:

  1. We process 68,000 thoughts a day; 98% of them are from yesterday.
  2. We suffer because we forget who we are.
  3. Our strategies to promote and defend ourselves are hard-wired. This is how we identify with the world; but we needn’t stay chained to that. We take it personally during meditation that our minds wander, that we might not be “doing” it “right” — that’s ego. Let it go.
  4. Hating our ego adds more self-aggression; hating the ego adds more ego: it’s a separation, it’s a judgment. Don’t judge, just be.
  5. When you go half as fast, you experience twice as much.
  6. Self-aversion locks us in self-aversion.
  7. In meditation, the concept of observing the “breath” is just a tool, use it if it helps. If it causes self-aversion (judgement, then zero in on something else: sounds, light, shadows through closed eyes).
  8. It’s not what’s happening, it’s how you relate to it.
  9. Invite your darker emotions in.  She told a few jokes and stories, I’ll share a joke below. One story is of the Buddha who was walking through a forest and saw Marra, who is the shadow side, the darker emotions. One of Buddha’s students came up to him and said, “Master, Master! Marra is behind the tree, over there!” and instead of fighting Marra, Buddha said, “I see you Marra. Let’s have tea.” Invite your emotions in.
  10. Say “yes” even to resistance; allowing that the resistance exists is a way to reduce your anxiety about being resistant. We have our central nervous system for a reason — when the body & mind are not ready, they are not ready. Just allowing the fact that you’re not ready brings you one step closer to eventually allowing it all, whatever you’re resisting.
  11. We are at war with ourselves. When we are at ease with ourselves, we don’t act with hostility or immoral behaviors.
  12. When we judge and blame, the area in our brains which houses compassion and empathy shuts down.
  13. When a sense of unworthiness is activated in us, creativity halts.
  14. It’s not about saying yes to what feels good; it’s about saying yes to what is. You don’t have to love what’s happening, but denying its existence, saying no to it will never work.
  15. We can get confused when we think that saying “Bad! Bad! Bad!” will ever help someone. You can’t hate or judge someone into transformation, especially yourself. (Been there, tried that, failed miserably.)
  16. Separation loss of compassion, blaming others is what is makes us sick. The “I” in illness and the “We” in wellness  illustrate clearly that when we separate and think of the other as unreal, that we have illness. When we welcome others, when we see them, we have wellness.
  17. Say yes to your need for space, peace and boundaries. When others have hurt you, be OK with your feelings of anger or hurt or offense or fear. Often we think in our goals to being self-actualized and whole, that we must hold a space for that person and the hurt they have inflicted on us; that we must allow it in some energetic sense. That’s not true.
  18. Most of our exhaustion comes from saying “no”; to resisting WHAT IS happening in our lives; our muscles tense and stress because they are geared toward resistance.

The joke:

A 60-year-old man visits his new GP to go over a battery of lab tests performed the week before.

The doctor says, “Well, it looks by the results of all these tests, you’re in very good physical health. Everything seems to be as it should be.”

The man says, “Wow, that’s great to hear. So I’ll live another 20 years?”

The doctor says, “Well, that all depends. Do you smoke, or drink excessively?”

The man says, “No.”

The doctor asks, “Do you golf, boat, spend a lot of time in the heat, or strong sun?”

The man says, “No.”

The doctor asks, “Do you excessively gamble, have sexual relations, stay out late and party?”

The man says, “No. I don’t do drugs or play cards. Nothing.”

The doctor asks, “Do you hike, go to high elevations, perform risky behaviors, skydive?”

The man says, “No. None of that…”

The doctor asks “What about travel to exotic locations, do you fly to foreign countries? Eat foods you’re unaccustomed to?”

The man says, “No. I have a steady diet.”

The list of questions goes on in the same spirit, asking about excess and vices for about four more and the patient says no to each one.

Finally the doctor asks, “Then why do you care??”

That got a big laugh.

The final meditation was a partner exercise. Naturally, my cousin and I chose each other. It was part active listening and part being OK with what you say. It was called “What Do You Love?” Everyone faced another person, knee to knee, and one person asked of the other, “Tell me, what do you love?” and the other person was to answer the question, without self-judgment, without fear (because love is supposed to be free of all that self-aversion stuff; it’s pure: love) and nothing was off-base.

I asked first and then it was my turn to answer. I said a few things that were typical and honest.

Then, I had a moment of transformation, an Awakening. I paused (one of Tara’s favorite words is “pause”).

I said, “I love my story.” And we both got a little emotional.

For me to be not only OK with, but to say that I love my story; the story of my entire life: all the ups and downs; all the fears and triumphs… was and is a lot. But it’s true. If I abhor and regret what I came from, how can I be OK with what I’ve become? It doesn’t work that way.

A day later, I’m still riding the wave, still confident that whatever inspired me to say “I love my story” is right, because if I don’t love my story, if YOU don’t love YOUR story, you don’t accept it; we are rejecting who we are.

So one more:

19. The first step to self acceptance and self-love, is loving who we are, no matter how or what we went through to get here. I believe I am finally there.

20. That’s up to you…

So get started: Tara Brach has a bunch of guided meditations available for download on her website; some are those you can listen to while you walk. She has CDs available on Amazon. This is her author page. On iTunes, there are a couple podcasts. She also has podcasts available on her website.

Thank you.

ps — one more: When we experience emotions, synaptically and clinically, the emotion only stays in our body for 90 seconds to process and flush through. What are we saying to ourselves when we stay, cognitively, in our states of fear and shame and guilt for years? Our brain was finished with that trauma and emotional state ages ago… We can learn to let go. We must learn to let go.

30 Days of “A Year of Living Your Yoga” — Day 11: Expend Energy Wisely

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Welcome to Day 11 of my ongoing blog series based on Judith Hansen-Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.” While the book has 365 quotes, I picked only 30.

My ambition is to keep the posts to less than 500 words.

Let’s do this.

December 6 — Remember to give your attention to what is worthy of it. If you care about nothing, your life will be lonely. Of you care about everything, you will live in a perpetual state of upset. Just for today, can you find the perfect balance between involvement and detachment?

HOLLLLLLLA!

So when I started teaching yoga, I wanted to hit every note, not miss any cue, be the perfect teacher and never screw up. Not surprisingly, this was MY very first quote I read to the class. I supposedly picked it at random, but we know how the Universe works, don’t we?

In those early classes, I was so busy worrying about being 100% that I attained maybe 70% of what I was aiming to do. In any one given class, I forgot to mention:

  • to select focal points for balance poses
  • to encourage people to feel their breaths
  • to bask in the moment of repose after a series
  • to mirror (use my left side when proposing the right for the students)
  • to turn off the lights (on one of my very last classes!) during svasana

I felt my classes suffered. Did they? People kept coming. So I guess the classes didn’t suffer. But here I am focusing on what I didn’t do… what about what I did do:

  • I am a stickler for form and alignment (people can get hurt)
  • I laugh at myself
  • I encourage others to smile (people take yoga very seriously)
  • I cut myself a break: I will always screw up; the world won’t end
  • I learn from each class I teach

Do you care about nothing and are bored? Apathy is a real bummer for the rest of us who happen to like things. No one wants to be around apathy. It’s like a snotty teenager who simply can’t be bothered to be bothered.

This is apathy:

anyone? anyone?

anyone? anyone?

 

Do you find yourself thinking too much about everything? Recycling, global warming, famine, Justin Bieber, addiction, corruption, open carry, American Idol, traffic, barking dogs, laundry, Sarah Palin, feeling unseen and unheard, cancer … (does any of this sound familiar from yesterday’s post?) and not devoting yourself and your energy to what really matters to YOU? Your spirit, your sense of Self, your boundaries, your values, your goals, your DREAMS?

This is someone who’s too involved:

mr. sidious.

mr. sidious.

Here’s me: CARE ABOUT YOUR DREAMS! get back on that bus! Remember what you love! Attract that back to your life and it will come! I can’t remember who said it, but it’s very profound: Watch your thoughts for they become words; Watch your words for they become actions; Watch your actions for they become character; Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

If you think about sadness and being overwhelmed and things that piss you off all the time, you won’t have room for thinking about the things you can change: you.

The only thing you can really change anyway is: you.

Your attitude toward things, your involvement with shit that REALLY doesn’t matter (oh my gosh! so much doesn’t matter! oy! it’s all ego traps!), any attraction to chaos and drama and how utterly depleting it is.

Right now: decide to dedicate your thoughts and energy to things that pay you back with kindness.

Take a deep breath, right now. I’ll wait.

Keep going, sit up tall, shoulders back and down, open the chest… and let it all in…

Good.

Now let it out, SLOWLY.

Now feel it, the release (’cause it’s there!) and ask: What really matters? Wait for the response (sometimes it’s nothing…) How can I effect my involvement in that? If your answer is “nothing,” then that means get involved in nothing: No Thing… How does that feel? Does it scare you to be involved in NO THING for one day? Hmm. Maybe consider the possibility that you’re control-oriented.

Now do it/the nothing.

Don’t like drama? Speak softer and encourage everyone to as well.

Don’t like fighting? Walk away and come back when you’re cooler.

Don’t like sad memories and focusing on what hurts? Here’s a twist: Don’t fight them, let them in… because when you do that, when you let them in, they can process themselves. Think of it as someone at US Customs… if you don’t process them, they stay at Customs all day… do you want that? No ’cause then you gotta feed ’em and put ’em up in a hotel… Accept and process your stuff, then it can go.

Thank you.

30 Days of “A Year of Living Your Yoga” — Day 10: Insecurity & Control

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Welcome to Day 10 of my blog series. This series is based on Judith Hansen-Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.” While the book has 365 quotes, I picked only 30.

I will try to keep these posts to less than 500 words. (These words don’t count — ha ha, nor does the quote.)

Here is the quote:

February 23 — Insecurity leads to more attempts to control. We feel insecure when we forget our connection to ourselves. Then we feel afraid and try to control everything around us. Instead, spend five minutes today sitting quietly, focusing on elongating your exhalation; it is the breath of letting go.

Then spend the rest of your life getting with the program. Because that is the art of living: letting shit go.

One of my favorite breathing exercises in yoga is to breathe in for a count of five and then gradually extend exhale after the first breath, to a count of 12. It’s the same amount of breath coming in and going out, every time (well, actually it might be more as time elapses because the lungs adapt and stretch) but you are never releasing more air than you took in on the inhale.

When we deepen and extend the breaths, we are activating what’s known as the “parasympathetic nervous response” which is better known as “freak-out / stress” breaths, but it’s really the extended exhale that does it. I believe I’ve mentioned this before: cigarette smokers have that breath DOWN PAT. Just take away the cancer stick and they’d be good to go.

(My apologies to any smokers out there, I realize it’s an addiction; I also realize that you need to stop smoking.)

I don’t think I was ever really a “control freak.” I know that when I was younger, I wanted what was best for my mother, and that was usually at odds with what she wanted for herself, but I never organically controlled things. I remember throwing out her cigarettes and other things she occupied her time with that resulted in moments which scared me, so yes, I was afraid and tried to control things (1 point to Lasater); but as I grew up and matured, I have never attempted to influence an outcome after I realized it had zero to do with me.

That’s hard: focusing on yourself when you know you don’t want to. When you’d rather point the finger at other people whom you believe are acting like jerks.

When I was in PTA, I had to let just about everything go (which wasn’t hard) because I knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at. If stuff didn’t get done, the world wasn’t going to end. Letting things go also enabled me to see where others simply couldn’t and that taught me that when crap hit the fan with those people that it had nothing to do with me. Their white-knuckled grips on whatever was sifting through their hands was all they thought they had; it was their only stroke of relevance in the world and it wasn’t until I opened up my eyes and saw that life is so much grander and bigger than the things we “do” that I was freed.

One of the meditations I like to do with students at the end of a vigorous class is the “squeeze it all out and then let it all go” release: sit or lie back and think of everything that gets under your skin: global warming, famine, Justin Bieber, addiction, corruption, open carry, American Idol, traffic, barking dogs, laundry, Sarah Palin, feeling unseen and unheard, cancer … breathe, inhale again and tighten your fists, legs, butt, face, jaw, gut, back, thighs, toes, eyes… all of you and again, breathe…. and THEN: exhale and release it all and let it go.

So yeah, let it go. I encourage you to sit five minutes today thinking about something you absolutely can’t control. Go on, find a nice comfy chair and set a kitchen timer for five minutes. Then sit in the chair, take a big breath, let out the breath and sit there and realize that LGO (life goes on) with and without you.

Thank you.

No Ordinary Day

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So today, I got more than I gave and I gave a lot. I received more than I could ever hope to provide.

We talk in mysteries sometimes, about how “the universe provides.” How things work out, no matter what, even if the end result (so far) is not what we would have preferred. We talk about being “less-than” or “good enough” or “better than we deserve to be.”

Today, I was a moth, drawn to the inextinguishable flame of Survivor-hood.

Today, I participated, on some infinitesimal scale, in a program to give to a group of women who have never given up; to women who have kept on keeping on.

Today, I felt like a faker because I was able to supposedly give a gift to these women, Survivors all of domestic violence and sexual violence.

I thought I was brave.

I thought I had guts.

I thought I had seen suffering, survived it, eclipsed it. And in my ways, I have. But I was never PROUD enough to come out, as these women did, and said (without uttering a word) that they experienced it and are winning.

These are proud women.

These are strong and fierce women but they are fierce in a way that rejects aggression, fear, anger and self-pity; they don’t have time for pretense. They are on their way.

Every sixty minutes, from 10am to 3:30pm today, I was able to show (because I can’t say “give”) these women another gift they can give to themselves: the gift of gentle, loving, simple yoga and the gift of mindful meditation and self-awareness. What I was humbly offering, on behalf of The Duffy House Project (http://www.theduffyhouse.org) at its 5th annual “Day of Pampering” was facing stiff competition from other amazing services: complementary hair styling, mani/pedis, massages, housewares, shopping spree for mom and kids (clothes, shows, hand bags, suits), toy store, book store, child care and activities during these services, and prayer, but I was thrilled to be able to offer my services to even one person. Every ounce of everything today was donated by people like me and local businesses.

I prepped last night. I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first year I’d committed to The Duffy House (twitter @TheDuffyHouse). I was uncomfortable the first time they asked, I didn’t feel like I would be of value, I felt like I wouldn’t know how to talk to the women; like that their situations meant I wouldn’t be able to relate to them, that just because I wasn’t a survivor of the trauma they surmounted, that I wasn’t kin; that we were separate.

I know that might sound wrong, separatist, detached, even snobby, but the opposite could not be truer. I simply wasn’t being honest with myself. I am no luckier than they; I just had trouble admitting truths to myself. I’d spun my experiences to assuage my pain and hide my shame, shame that didn’t belong on me and shame that has no place on anyone but the man who’d taken advantage of me years before I cleared my head, made healthier choices and met my husband. But I am not here to talk about that; I’ve made peace with it all.

Nothing changed from then to now, other than my willingness to see my truth, walk in it and honor it and then when the time was right, as it was today, to give myself to these women and take the chance to move my own insecurities out of the equation. If I couldn’t muster the confidence and self-belief to give myself to these women, then I was not worthy of their time. I could not be a healer.

So I packed up eleven yoga mats, nine books, my Tibetan singing bowl, a stick from my yard that I found first step out the door this morning to strike the bowl, my iPod, my sound system, my truth and my courage.

the yoga mats are courtesy our school PTA. i use them to teach yoga to some 6th graders in the spring.

the yoga mats are courtesy our school PTA. i use them to teach yoga to some 6th graders in the spring.

The room they gave at the church for the yoga was sublime: it was cozy, dark and away from the joyful noises upstairs. The lamp in the room needed a light bulb, so I borrowed one (and just remembered I forgot to put it back) from a lamp in a meeting room down the hall. It was IDEAL, it was like a dream mini-studio to me. The lamp with the borrowed bulb cast a loving warm glow in the tiny room. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.

Another yoga practitioner, Sheila (fake name), was lined up to join me in leading the women and we were going to alternate every 30 minutes. After the first round, Sheila and I had determined that 30 minutes was OK, but 40 minutes would be better. We were not as busy as I would have hoped, so if the women had more time between the other services they were offered, we took advantage of the cushion and spent more time with them.  I would say the other provider and I practiced yoga with about 20 women and all the while, it was me and Sheila who got the gift.

My iPod played meditation music all day and I used only one book. I used the bowl three times and I unrolled five yoga mats that Sheila and I shared for the Survivors. I read a meditation on “assertiveness” to the women as they laid in the darkened room, their palms facing the sky to accept peace and give strength and when I stopped, I heard sniffles and I was honoring my own throat’s lump. Some women told me that reading was exactly what they needed to hear. So I made copies and handed them out after lunch and left them on the tables. They were all taken up when the day was ending.

As the afternoon wore on, the lobby of the church where these Survivors stepped in to receive their services was getting crowded. Gift bags and backpacks and balloons and trinkets were waiting for all the women and their children who’d honored us with their courage and trusted our hearts and hands and thoughts and energy.

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I had the opportunity to speak with some Survivors; some were so transformed by changing their own lives, I’d mistaken them for service providers. Some were still quite broken and sad and I just sat near them in silence and honored the guts they’d shown me by not only persevering but by getting up and getting out and coming there. They could have stayed in; they could have stayed away, but all of them, just by being there, helped everyone else under that roof. The energy was authentic and spirited; the women were in their own way already in their peace.  The other women in the neighborhood, many whom I’ve known for years, were on hand to help out, drive, be logistically available, run errands and keep the kids in check. This wasn’t an event for just the Survivors, this was an event for all of us and its effects are long-lasting, cementing, and so nurturing. I can’t wait for next year.

I’m not here to talk about Mother’s Day. Having a productive uterus does not a mother make. You can “mother” another human being, even a man can, just by being decent, nurturing, kind, patient, genuine and forgiving. As I said in another post about mothering long ago, “If your person [mother] wasn’t there for you to begin with, become the person You’ve Been Waiting For.”

Today, was no ordinary day and I am all the better for it.

Thank you.

UPDATE: Mind officially blown. Read what happened on Mother’s Day: https://mollyfielddotcom.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/check-writing-angels-growing-up/