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Practicing Through Becoming: No Place For “Trying”

April 21, 2018

As a teacher of self-compassion and mindfulness, I often have occasion to hear from people about their personal practice. I might ask “How is your practice going?” and quite often the answer is “I’m trying to practice, but it’s not easy.” And therein lies the rub: practice is often not easy, even though it is remarkably simple.

But it’s that word “trying” that really gets me. Are YOU “trying” to practice self-compassion? What is that like for you? For me, just hearing the word “trying” makes me a little bit tired and disheartened on your behalf. What if you were to turn that term upside down and shake it to see what comes out. As the Jedi (Zen?) Master Yoda famously said “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

As we learn in exploring self-compassion, if what you are doing is a struggle it is not self-compassion. If we let go of needing to get to a specific destination (“trying”) and instead see ourselves as simply practicing (“doing”) self-compassion moment by moment, we find that we are actually on a continuous journey that is traversed one step at a time, and each step finds us just a tiny bit farther down the path. Patience is the key. Perhaps you have had the experience of taking a long journey in a car with small children who ask every five minutes “Are we there yet?”. The wise adult in you knows that life doesn’t work this way when you are on a journey, and so it goes with the inner journey of mindfulness and self-compassion, but we forget that.

Is it possible for you to see yourself as simply practicing self-compassion through the process of becoming more self-compassionate? What if you stopped being the nagging child in the back seat asking, “Am I there yet?” and instead say “Here I am!” and perhaps even go on to inquire: “What do I need in this moment?”

Bingo! You just practiced self-compassion through your process of becoming more self-compassionate. No trying required, no effort expended, no destination but simply a journey in the process of becoming . . . a more self-compassionate you. See if you can stop trying and practice instead. Do you really need to “try” to put your hand on your heart when you notice a moment of suffering? Or could you just do it?

I would love to have you join Beth Mulligan and me for a silent meditation retreat entitled “Coming Home to Kindness” on November 9-14, 2018 at the lovely Copper Beech Institute in Hartford, Connecticut. Retreats can be a remarkably rejuvenating experience to deepen our commitment to practice and facilitate our journey of becoming. See the Copper Beech website for more details.

 

 

 

Meditation and Worry: The mindfulness solution

May 21, 2017

How can I meditate when I am extremely worried about something and can’t take my mind off that?

Sit down, settle your body, notice your breath, catch yourself when your mind wanders and invite it back, and repeat as needed, for 30-45 minutes per day. Pretty creative huh? That’s because I meditate.

On the one hand, that might seem like an overly simplistic response to an important question. And I have to admit that it is, but I am trying to make a point. The practice is the practice is the practice. At its core, mindfulness practice is simple, but the challenge is that it isn’t always easy.

In situations where we are particularly captivated by worrisome topics or situations, our mind’s tendency is to go to the content of our worries, to try and solve the problem, or simply become immersed in anxiety and fear. Our minds like to serve up a big heaping bowl of delicious, enticing, anxiety-provoking fruit, and we can’t resist snatching an apple of anxiety or pear of panic, when our real task is to simply be the bowl. See if the next time worry arises, you can instead notice worry. Perhaps tuning in to sensations in the body that accompany worry, notice how worry actually feels, and let the thoughts that come with worry rush past you as if you are sitting beneath a waterfall that is pelting you with thoughts and you’ve just chosen to take one step back and watch the thoughts fall. You might even practice a bit of self-compassion and soothe yourself with a gentle touch of the hand to your heart, not to get rid of the worry but just to acknowledge that worry is present and you are suffering in that moment.

This piece originally appeared in Mindful magazine in the recurring feature “Am I Doing This Right?”)

How to get your significant other onto the cushion

May 18, 2017

“My boyfriend doesn’t want to meditate. How can I persuade him to do it? I think it would help him.”

I recommend a high, whiny, annoying vocal tone and if you can muster up a few tears, that would be amazing. Another option would be to let go of needing to change your boyfriend’s behavior and instead tend to your own practice. Nothing is more convincing than the embodiment of mindfulness practice that allows others to see their own selves in a different light because of the way in which those around them carry themselves. Unless, perhaps, you’ve already been effective in getting him to pick up his dirty socks from the floor of his apartment and wind the toilet paper the proper way on the roll in the bathroom. In which case, you’ve got mad skills at boyfriend motivation and I wish you well on the direct approach.

This piece originally appeared in Mindful magazine in the recurring feature “Am I Doing This Right?”)

Meditate even when they send in the clowns

May 15, 2017

Is it OK to start out with the idea that I’ll keep meditating until I don’t feel like doing it anymore, or should I choose a set period of time?  

89b25d9549b27d2ea95dd6fe8259b19fFirst of all, to some degree if you sit down to practice meditation, then it’s always OK. The real question is whether a certain approach is advisable and whether it supports a regular and beneficial practice. I can also tell you what would happen for me if I decided not to meditate for a set period of time and just meditated until I didn’t want to meditate. I believe my average time per meditation would be somewhere in the range of 30 seconds to a minute, tops.

As long as that’s where you’re aiming for your daily practice, go for it.

But most of us aspire for a tad more practice on a regular basis. The challenge is, of course, that the “not feeling like doing it” is simply a thought that the brain has offered up as if it is a truth. But what are thoughts anyway? Really, they’re just brain secretions. They have no inherent truth or fact to them, and they often come and go fairly randomly. When we settle in to the cushion or chair and allow our minds to settle as well, we can see the coming and going of this thought stream, and we don’t have to latch on to any given thought.

Setting a time to practice (even if it is a modest goal for you) allows you to have the stability of your intention (to stay in practice for a set time), which leaves you less subject to the impact of a random neuron firing that leads to an equally random thought entering your awareness. It is the stability that is developed through repeated encounters with all of the phenomena of attention—including ideas about having meditated enough—that deeply serves us in our daily lives when we are virtually bombarded with thoughts, feelings, sensations, and clowns. Well, the latter is a little less frequent, but remember, they don’t always wear makeup and big floppy shoes. They come in all forms and sometimes they’re kinda creepy.

(This piece originally appeared in Mindful magazine in the recurring feature “Am I Doing This Right?”)

Meditating in a worried state of mind

May 9, 2017

“How can I meditate when I am extremely worried about something and can’t take my mind off that?”

SMirC-worry-2.svg_Sit down, settle your body, notice your breath, catch yourself when your mind wanders and invite it back, and repeat as needed, for 30-45 minutes per day. Pretty creative huh? That’s because I meditate.

On the one hand, that might seem like an overly simplistic response to an important question. And I have to admit that it is, but I am trying to make a point. The practice is the practice is the practice. At its core, mindfulness practice is simple, but the challenge is that it isn’t always easy.

In situations where we are particularly captivated by worrisome topics or situations, our mind’s tendency is to go to the content of our worries, to try and solve the problem, fix the situation, or simply become immersed in anxiety and fear. Our minds like to serve up a big heaping bowl of delicious, enticing, anxiety-provoking fruit, and we can’t resist snatching an apple of anxiety or pear of panic, when our real task is to simply be the bowl.

See if the next time worry arises, you can instead notice worry. Perhaps tuning in to sensations in the body that accompany worry, notice how worry actually feels, and let the thoughts that come with worry rush past you as if you are sitting beneath a waterfall that is pelting you with thoughts and you’ve just chosen to take one step back and watch the thoughts fall. You might even practice a bit of self-compassion and soothe yourself with a gentle touch of the hand to your heart, not to get rid of the worry but just to acknowledge that worry is present and you are suffering in that moment.

(This piece originally appeared in Mindful magazine in the recurring feature “Am I Doing This Right?”)

Plenty of time to meditate . . . not!

May 2, 2017

“When am I ever going to find the time to do this?”

I haven’t the slightest idea.

Only you know the structure of your life, but along with noticing that you don’t have an extra 30 minutes a day lying around where you wonder how you might possibly fill it, I’d like to encourage you to take a moment to contemplate a different question that might lead you someplace helpful.

Why are you asking the question?

Specifically, what is it about mindfulness practice that is compelling enough for you to consider trying to squeeze it into a day that is presumably as packed as the proverbial clown car at the circus? And might even include a few random actual clowns, depending upon where you hang out!

What is it about mindfulness practice that has moved, touched, or shifted something in you, that you are inclined to try to practice it regularly? Can you connect with that instant, that feeling, that lightbulb moment that hooked you?

If you’ve never meditated and you ask about when you will find the time, then this won’t necessarily work for you. But if you’ve practiced and found yourself wanting to practice more, then you have connected with that deep part of yourself that needs the practice and that will truly help you find the time to practice.

Give that little spark of wisdom and ease a time and a place to smolder and ignite, even 5-10 minutes a day if that’s all you can find, and see where it leads. I think you’ll find the time, and maybe you’ll be able to boot out a couple of those clowns to make room for a formal practice.

(This piece originally appeared in Mindful magazine in the recurring feature “Am I Doing This Right?”)

Safely Challenged: Self-Compassion and Mindfulness Enhancing Each Other

August 12, 2016

This morning as I lingered outside the meditation hall before morning practice, I came upon the biography of E.B. White. I randomly opened the book and this is the verse that I found:

The critic leaves at curtain fall
To find, in starting to review it
He scarcely saw the play at all
For watching his reactions to it

It helped me realize that the Inner Critic (like the Drama Critic) always dwells outside the “play” itself, or outside of our direct moment-to-moment experience. That experience of each moment is the center of three concentric circles where that center circle represents safety, the next circle out represents challenge and the largest circle is overwhelm. The critic’s harsh voice comes from the outside in, can tangle us in overwhelm or just pummel us at the level of challenging. But we can find some refuge in the safety of the inner circle of moment to moment experience.

In fact, the area outside of the safe circle is really where we most often live our lives, because this is where we connect with other people, encounter triumph, tragedy, love and loss.

So I think of mindfulness as learning how to find our safe circle and how to make our way back to the refuge of the present moment when we are caught in reactivity and suffering. It is here in this safe circle where we can find our feet, where we can be nourished by our own resources and become clear on our values. We all have different degrees of ability to return to that safe circle but we all have some capacity.

While “pure” mindfulness can give us refuge in the present moment, it can be dry and cold just living in bare attention of each moment in our safe place. We actually live at the edges of that circle or even beyond, and something in us is curious, wants to be connected and even wants to be challenged, if only in a small way.

Compassion by itself, disconnected from the wellspring of the present moment can be kind and warm, but scattered, unfocused and in the end unsustainable because it can’t be easily replenished.

When we bring compassion, and particularly self-compassion, to the practice of mindfulness then we actually gently expand the circle of safety into the area of challenge so that we can feel some ease in challenge, engaged in the sometimes messy (but also fulfilling) world of suffering, self-criticism, Mara or the dragons that lurk beyond the charted territories of ancient maps. By warming up the conversation we can actually build ourselves a progressively bigger platform from which to live, that allows for a bit of permeability (if that’s called for) between safety and challenge. This new expanded presence can allow us to hear the inner critic, to invite in the wisdom of a compassionate being, or to consider the need that has not been met by others so that we can provide it to ourselves.

By remembering that the critic lives in the space around the safety circle, we can be reminded that this is where our attention and our compassion should be directed if we seek change or relief. We cannot dwell on the presence of difficult feelings or challenging other people if we want a way through our suffering. We can only tend to the relationship we have with the feelings or the people and how we can meet those unchangeable facts with some degree of warmth and kindness that can relieve the suffering in wanting things to be different than they are.

I will be co-leading a Mindful Self-Compassion 5-Day Intensive with MSC Co-Founder Christopher Germer in January in Delray Beach, Florida. Please consider joining us and learning more about the benefits of self-compassion practice in your life.