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Seeing the light, feeling the heat

April 3, 2021

Today I told my mother I love her, for the very last time.

She isn’t suffering, but instead slowly unwinding and soon she will be gone from this earthly plane and we will all be the better for her journey through this world because of the people she touched and the hearts she healed.

As I lay next to her this afternoon and stroked her hair and whispered in her ear, a voice came up out of the depths of her dementia that said, quite clearly “I’m so glad you’re here.” And somehow, I knew that she was speaking directly to me, Steve, in that moment, despite not recognizing me moments before. It was a wish come true to hear her speaking directly to me one last, heart-churning, precious time.

I find myself reflecting on whether I have any regrets in this tender moment, and what comes to mind is that I have always regretted never being able to convince my mama that she was, indeed, a most excellent mother. For most of our adult lives, my brother, sister and I have asserted over her protestations that she was a wonderful mother. We tried everything to finally convince dear Frances with a heart as big as the world, that she could take herself off the hook and rest confidently in the knowing that we turned out beautifully. Each of these smart, funny, talented, humble and loving beings emerged from her womb and have made our way admirably in the world as a direct result of her love and care as our mom. Our roads, like those of all humans, have been bumpy and taken some twists and turns, but we have survived and thrived because of her.

But time after time she dismissed our declarations of admiration and appreciation, always pointing to her own perceived shortcomings, regrets and mistakes. Those conversations almost always ended with her in tears of guilt and us in knots of frustration and powerlessness. We know in our hearts that we are right, to this day, and all we wanted in those periodic battles was to finally lift the veil of self-loathing and perfectionism that weighed her down and made her cry. We only wished the best for Mom: to be happy and free from at least this particular suffering. And we repeatedly failed.

For years we (my siblings and I) were taking on a battle with Mom’s inner critic that constantly berated her for not doing more, not loving more, not having more and not healing more. That inner critic of Mom’s, like all our inner critics, is a sneaky and devious bastard that leads us to believe that it is all there is and the only voice to be believed. But today I realized that we have often overlooked the voice underneath that one, that was Mom’s genuine, heartfelt desire to share compassion, kindness, love and healing with everyone she met. Why did I not embrace that even deeper voice of human kindness and celebrate her tender heart instead? Mom is/was a lover, a companion, a free spirit with an eye for humor, beauty, grace and redemption in virtually everyone she counseled, sponsored, took in or touched in some way.

How did I miss this all these years while I was busy trying to convince her that she was, indeed, enough? “That’s just mom,” I would say when she spent an hour on the phone late at night with some recovering alcoholic who needed a shoulder to cry on. I’d roll my eyes when she was late at work tending to someone in crisis or exercising the patience of Job with someone whose pattern of self-defeating behavior was repeating itself before her eyes. What I learned from this was that kindness is a solid bedrock of being human, that compassion is always there (if sometimes forgotten) and forgiveness is always possible if the heart is strong and open. I am an optimist, a believer in the best of everyone, as a result of being raised by this amazing woman.

And Mom’s fingerprints are on more people than I could ever count, including those people’s partners, children, grandchildren and colleagues. I sat these last few days with my siblings and heard my dear sister say that, even after 30 years of being a cop and having recently weathered a horrific mass shooting that killed a colleague and friend, that she still firmly believes that people are basically good people who simply want to be happy. What more obvious example could you want to demonstrate the strength and resilience of the human heart that Mom fostered in us . . . and so many more?

I remember Mom having a little sign on her desk when she used to professionally counsel people that said, “people change, not when they see the light, but when they feel the heat.” We tried for so many years to help her see the light, but I stand here today fully confident down to my bones that she felt the heat of our tender beating hearts and somehow she came to know that we were one of many success in her long and colorful life.  You done good, Mom. Go sweetly to sleep with ease in your heart that we’ve got you covered. We’re good. Thanks Mom.

Being on Zoom: The Constant Presence of Each Other’s Absence

April 4, 2020

IMG_8763I’ve been teaching mindfulness and compassion for about twenty years now, and I believe I thrive when I’m sitting with a group of people open to exploring this transformative practice. Friends and family have known me to “come alive” when I am teaching and I feel a familiar surge of excitement and animation when I have those opportunities. But the other day, a colleague invited me to co-teach a short compassion session online with her. I deeply appreciated the invitation but immediately declined because I just haven’t felt like a teacher since this virus invaded our lives. I’ve worked my tail off in other ways, but something had me holding back from teaching. I knew in my bones that I couldn’t do this, but that made me curious.

I’ve spent hours in Zoom meetings of various sorts the past couple weeks, connected with dear friends in China, Australia, England, Israel, Spain, Singapore, Canada, Switzerland and Croatia (to name just a few). I have felt joy arising to see the faces and hear the voices of people whose faces and voices I first encountered when we were breathing the same air, standing in the same physical space, each (in Dan Siegel’s term) “feeling felt” by the other. And so it was nice to be with them electronically in this age of social distancing and sheltering in place.

And that was it, it was nice.

I’ve been so busy lately that I thought perhaps I was just fatigued. But the more it happens, the more I realize that I end up feeling both connected but disconnected to these dear people. And I have heard multiple accounts of therapists doing tele-therapy and sharing how exhausted they feel after several sessions online.

There is a different quality to our attention when we are online. We are hyper-focused on the few available visual cues that we normally gather from a full range of available body language. Or perhaps, we are totally distracted and checking email while we are supposed to be conversing or listening intently to a colleague’s detailed presentation. If we are with several people online at the same time, we are simultaneously processing visual cues from all of those people (and perhaps a handful of their pets and children too!) in a way we never have to do around a conference table. It is a stimulus-rich environment, but just like rich desserts, sometimes too rich is just too much.

And when we start to be over-stimulated by extraneous data that we haven’t had to process in the physical world, each new data point pushes us just a little bit farther away from the human-to-human connection that we all crave and appreciate. Italian management professor Gianpiero Petriglieri recently tweeted “It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” So beautifully and eloquently perceptive!

The constant presence of my colleagues’ absence may have been underlying my disinclination to do what I love on this platform that has become a lifeline for so many of us. And so, the question arises for me: Is there some way to ease the burden of this “disconnected connection” and allow me to foster a better balance of connection between us?

Here’s what I am going to try starting on Monday when my new reality resumes anew and I find myself on various calls with all manner of people looking to connect in various ways:

  • Take a few moments before clicking “Start” to settle and ground my attention. Take a few breaths, feel my body on the chair, notice whatever is present in my mind and allow myself to arrive fully to the moment at hand. If I’m feeling unsettled or preoccupied, I might place my hand on my heart in a supportive and comforting way as if to say “I’m here for you. It’s ok to feel how you feel at this moment.”
  • As I greet whoever is there in the room, I will take the time to truly greet them with my full attention to each face that appears (if the group is not too big). I will give myself a moment for each person to make an impression on me, and I will “take in the good” as Rick Hanson would say. I will give myself an opportunity to feel what it feels like to be in the presence of another.
  • In Zoom, one can choose Speaker View or Gallery View, and I think I prefer Speaker View so that the one person who is speaking has more of my attention and the others are more peripheral. This seems to be more like sitting around a conference table where we are aware of everyone there but we direct our attention primarily to whoever is speaking. Tracking an array of 24 (or more) faces on the screen can be a challenge!
  • I sheepishly have to admit that I am a multi-tasker on Zoom many times and have been known to read and fire off several emails while also sitting in a meeting. This has got to stop. Not because I need to hyper-focus on just what is happening in the meeting, but because I can’t be putting additional effort into attending to anything else. If anything, I need to let go of a bit of “efforting” and let my attention rest more lightly and lovingly on what (and who) is before me. I can periodically ease up my focus and look out the window behind my screen, or at the knick-knacks on the shelves in my office, or just soften my gaze to take in the array of faces on my screen (to see without looking) without having to analyze or scrutinize any of them.
  • I will try to take measured breaks between sessions. As a clinical psychologist, when I used to do psychotherapy, I was fairly good at enforcing a 50-minute hour. That gave me ten minutes to write notes, run to the restroom, get a drink of water and generally settle and decompress. Quite often my Zoom meetings run back to back and I find that sometimes my Zoom room becomes a kind of random encounter anteroom where people from various aspects of my personal and professional life bump into each other for a few moments on their way in and out of a meeting with me. Fun as these moments are sometimes, I need to take better care of my precious attention and energy.
  • And finally, I am going to remind myself periodically that this is a new place between presence and absence that we will have to learn how to accommodate as we go forward into the uncertain future. It is both better than absence (imagine life in a pandemic without FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and the rest) and not quite as resonant as presence (do we know if mirror neurons still function over the internet like they do in person?). Let me see if I can simultaneously refrain from high expectations without dismissing the clear benefits of online communication.

And let’s not forget those benefits. We can have important meetings while only dressed appropriately from the waist up. Our beloved pets can be perched lovingly in our laps while we review our colleague’s budget projections. If we are the host of the meeting we can “accidentally” mute or remove a colleague in a way that would never be socially appropriate in person. We can even feign a poor connection if the meeting is getting so deadly dull that we are in danger of nodding off and striking our heads on our keyboards.

But on a serious note, let us not dismiss this amazing technology, but instead learn to find a way to assimilate it into a full spectrum of interpersonal experiences that our new lives include. Let us be present to absence, without becoming absent to presence. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it to develop this new capacity.

Here’s the bottom line in a beautiful handout that you are encouraged to share widely. Thanks to the folks at Portland State University for doing this! Six Ways to find Balance and Stay Connected


Loving Others Without Losing Ourselves as Teachers of Mindfulness & Compassion

March 27, 2020

lovingThe ubiquity of human suffering, especially in the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, is almost overwhelming at times. Particularly for those of us drawn to share mindfulness and compassion through these marvelous mechanisms of MBSR, MSC, MBCT, CCT and others, we can be acutely aware of the pain in our course participants and others we encounter in our work. As a teacher, and even just as a human being, this can be a troublesome burden to carry.

As the tide of fear began to rise in the U.S. over the virus, it was inspiring to see mindfulness and compassion teachers around the globe responding to that fear with ingenuity, dedication to their participants and sheer certainty that this practice of self-compassion was a crucial survival skill to cope with the what we face. Teachers shifted their courses to online platforms, offered free online drop-in meditation or support sessions, and generally made themselves available to course graduates, current participants and even prospective future students in a spontaneous outpouring of compassion for our fellow humans.

The bond between we teachers and our participants is really quite sacred and precious, and we are finely attuned to the “quivering of the heart” that they experience, inside of class, outside, online, and via email or text message. Our mirror neurons are firing away, and we are feeling the pain and responding with kindness, patience, strength, and compassion. In a way, we are in our element when we are in contact with people who are suffering, but we are in potentially overpowering times with this pandemic because the suffering is truly all around and palpable to everyone. For those of us who are tuned a bit more finely to this distress, it is crucial that we find the right balance of self- and other-care that helps us sustain and continue to be of support to others.

But this is not about self-care, although that is important too, it is about not losing our feet as teachers as we respond to the suffering of the people around us. It is absolutely crucial that we remember the fundamental assumption that we make about our participants and hold that fiercely in all the choices we make as teachers.

What is that assumption, you ask? It is that we firmly believe, with every fiber of our beings as teachers and practitioners (from our own experience), that each person we encounter possesses within them the fundamental capacity to see and respond to what they need in a moment of suffering.

They may have forgotten that capacity, believed it to be lost or destroyed by trauma, they may doubt their own resiliency and believe that they need others to lead them, but we know better. We know that deep within each human being is great strength and the seeds of mindfulness and compassion, however un-watered or neglected. The practices we teach are the means by which people learn to tend and water that seed and to bring it forth into their lives in a form that is meaningful and valuable to them. This isn’t to say that some people might not need a bit more support and encouragement to find this inner strength and kindness, but in the end, it is in them and our role is to help them find and foster it. We are their supports but not their strength.

The key guiding principle here is empowerment. Our role as teachers is to help them restore a kind of “inner authority” that they may have lost along the way, through the way we meet them. Whether we are asking for their input when presenting a topic, urging them to ask themselves what they need in a particular moment of suffering, or gently inquiring about their experience and letting the spotlight rest gently on them and not us, we are always sending the message that “You’ve got this!” We figuratively stand beside them and accompany them on this rich journey of self-discovery and resource-building, but it is they who are doing the work and we are simply creating the safe space, lighting the way and providing gentle compassionate encouragement when needed.

This profound respect for the deep inner wisdom and resources of every person is the healing ingredient of the programs we teach, and it must extend to how we respond to our participants (or anyone) when they are suffering. When our heart is touched and we feel compelled to take some action to help relieve someone’s pain, we need to be aware of our mission as teachers and ask ourselves: “What will best serve this person best?”

Perhaps a bit deeper question we might ponder in these moments of inspiration to action, is “When I pause long enough to see below the action, who is it for? Who is it TRULY for?” Can we look yourselves in the eye and say that this offering we are considering is truly aligned with our core intention as teachers for our participants? Or is there some hint of needing to comfort or soothe ourselves in the face of their struggles? Is there a familiar pattern from our past that is unfolding in this moment that is better dealt with in other ways? What will empower this person to weather not just this particular storm, but many storms ahead?

This is not to suggest that we act selfishly when we seek to serve and support the people we teach. To the contrary, if we can meet our own needs in these charged moments (which is, after all, our responsibility), then we raise the level of the encounter to something truly inspiring and timeless for them AND us. This calls to minds the phrases of the Compassion with Equanimity practice of Mindful Self-Compassion: Everyone is on their own life journey. I am not the cause of this person’s suffering, nor is it entirely within my power to make it go away, even though I wish I could. Moments like this are difficult to bear, yet I may still try to help if I can.

Moments like this are indeed difficult to bear, but it is in bearing them with compassion for ourselves in the presence of our participants that they truly learn to bear their own difficult moments. We have served both our own important needs AND theirs, together, but separately.

At certain moments, when people are feeling completely lost and unable to access their own inner resources, the wisest response is to step in and support them, but as my fellow MSC teacher and widely respected psychotherapist, Susan Pollak recently told me, “I’m actually finding that people are more resourced than I assumed.” Susan went on to advise that we all err on the side of adopting what Zen masters call “don’t know mind” when it comes to rushing in to support people who are struggling. In other words, could we let our basic assumption about people be one of wholeness and resilience? In the end, this is not an easy assumption to make when people come to us not believing in it for themselves, but it is exactly our embrace of this assumption that can help them heal!

And even if we choose to act and offer something extra, above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak, because we feel it is important, we have the constant opportunity to check in and guide our actions. While you are making the offering of time, energy or expense, check in with yourself to see if it nourishes or depletes you to do so, especially over time. This can be tricky because if this offering is made out of love but it fosters a kind of dependence on you as the “expert” or contributes to the person feeling like their resources are outside of themselves, then you may want to adjust and rethink how you manage your offering for the greater good.

The fact that we are moved deeply by the experiences of our participants goes to the very heart of our teaching and is a kind of badge of honor of our profession. But whether we are able to meet those feelings with compassion for ourselves is what makes this work truly heroic. From an embodied stance of self-compassion, we have the strength and warmth to support and empower the people we teach to do the same. This is teaching contemplative practice at its very highest and best purpose: a humble “don’t know mind” stance of openness, encouragement and conviction in the power of self-compassion.

How to Get Unstuck, Unfinished and Unsorted. And why.

July 10, 2019

Recently I had the opportunity to co-lead a silent retreat with my dear friend and colleague Beth Mulligan. This 5-day adventure took place in June 2019 at the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in North Andover, Massachusetts.

As the retreat began to unfold with us and 29 participants, I realized that everyone here had come, in one way or another, to “take care of business” and get some things settled in their lives. This is an endeavor that is fraught with the potential for abject failure, so I thought I’d have some fun with that and put together this talk.

Privilege, Power and a Pair of Plastic Earrings: A reflection on the inner capacity of self-compassion

September 29, 2018

MUOgF0wLRWSCQVXjJzvo5QI rode into the Casabranca favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro knowing full well that, in an hour or so, I could ride right back out and slip into the tidy stream of life outside of poverty and danger. I felt a little apprehension at getting my hands dirty like this, but I could humor my hosts and find out how people live here and what the healthcare providers who work here face on a regular basis. I was literally “slumming” for the first time in my privileged life.

And of course, it was messy, stark, meandering and daunting as the living spaces, piled on top of each other, extended as far up the hillside as I could see. But there was a kind of spirit here that I saw in the eyes of the people. The children playing in the street, the women toiling in their living spaces and the hard-working healthcare workers in their bright white uniforms and their playful smiles and cheerful attitudes. My physician colleagues back home in the US struggle to help their privileged (by contrast) patients stay healthy and alive. I could just imagine what it’s like to do the same for people who may not always have fresh water, enough healthy food or even vaccinations for infectious diseases that we get routinely at home.

And then we sat. I joined a tiny weekly mindfulness group led by Berenice, a psychologist who is part of the “collaborative care” team in this small primary care clinic in Casabranca. Three young women and the 10-year-old son of one of those women gathered in a small consultation office, closed their eyes and dropped their awareness onto their breath. After a few minutes we moved on to the quintessential mindfulness exercise: the raisin. One woman, who had not done the exercise before was dismayed that she was only given a few raisins in the bottom of a cup. “This isn’t enough to eat!” she said laughing. The others nodded knowingly and smiled.fullsizeoutput_2051

We explored the raisins together and then we explored the experience. The group went on to share how they are noticing mindfulness unfolding in their lives (all have been coming for some time to this weekly group with Berenice). They shared brief stories of noticing their old patterns and being able to shift course and choose options that work better for them. One woman with the tendency to get angry at her husband reported that she could begin to see the anger arising and take a breath to shift her old pattern of expressing the anger impulsively and hurtfully. She was clearly excited at this new development, and there was a softness to her realization that warmed the very obvious deep inner strength that she possesses naturally. It was a winning combination and unexpected in a place where I expected not to encounter hope, joy or resolve for something better.

The little boy said he used to get bullied more but now he is able to not react as much when he is upset and walk away from situations. His face lit up when he reported quite proudly that, because he is staying out of trouble more, he gets to actually speak at church on Sundays. His beaming face filled me with love and compassion and made me think of my own son at that age and how tender and full of love our hearts can be, even in the lap of poverty and in the shadow of privilege.

And then there was the woman with the plastic earrings. I didn’t catch her name, but her earrings caught my eye. Neon bright green lacy discs about three inches in diameter dangled from each ear. My first thought was that you could probably buy a pair for a dollar at home. My privileged mind wanted to scoff at the gaudy, cheesy, cheap decorations, but it couldn’t. She told a story of a problem with “nerves” (a syndrome in some Latin cultures that roughly equates to anxiety) and she showed numerous scars on the inside of her forearms where she had scratched or cut herself over the years. She didn’t say a lot. She didn’t have to. None of the marks was fresh and there was a kind of solid self-confidence to her that intrigued me. I kept looking at those earrings and realizing she wore them with pride and a kind of commitment to her own worth as a human being. She had made an effort to make herself attractive, not for the world around her, but for her and who she sees inside. I saw her smile warmly at the little boy telling his story and could see her love for humanity in that look.

And those earrings looked perfect on her. The radiance, the lack of self-consciousness, the spirit of a Carioca (a resident of Rio) all shone through because she could embrace her true nature as a glorious, lively, perfectly imperfect human being who simply wants to be happy and free from suffering.

jTELCrL7Tkan6y+%uXbd%QMindfulness is a powerful and transformative practice. I have known that for as long as I have been practicing and teaching it, but even more than that, I could see quite clearly that what emerged from each of these people, including Berenice herself, was a clear and growing inner strength that came from loving themselves just a little bit more, and by extension, standing strong and resilient in the face of conditions that have crushed many others. It is the little triumphs, in the moments of awareness, that foster our sense of friendliness toward who we are that allows us to shake the bonds of shame and self-criticism, commit to doing right by ourselves and our fellow human beings, and put on our own version of those dayglo earrings as an act of kindness and a manifestation of our deep connection to the good of ourselves and humanity as a whole.

This is what Kristin Neff and Chris Germer refer to as the “yang” of self-compassion. The active, motivating, protecting, providing aspect of self-compassion that says “no!” to injustice and opens us to moving through the world with purpose and intention to care for ourselves as we would for our loved ones, and to proudly don those plastic earrings. The comforting, soothing and nurturing “yan” side of self-compassion is there too, to support us through our suffering and to soften our touch, but the active side often is overlooked.

This is the unique and ultimate human privilege that every one of us possesses. The capacity to simply include ourselves in the circle of compassion and to see that our struggles, our challenges and our deepest fears about ourselves actually bind us together with every human being on the planet. When we feel bad, flawed, irreparably broken and unlovable, it hurts, but it stems from this deep desire within us to BE loved. I want to be loved as much as those people in the group and as much as you do, and we all want to be free from suffering. We share the privilege of being able to honor that in ourselves no matter what we own, where we live, or what our history held.

In this short venture into the favela, my privilege, as a white, middle-aged, financially comfortable man actually afforded me the opportunity to see how those with the least privilege can teach us all a lesson about the most important privilege: to be able to give ourselves compassion whenever we suffer, to love who we are as individuals and as human beings, and to proudly wear our own version of those plastic earrings. I am grateful to all my teachers for this realization, especially those four people in that little room.

I am inspired by my new friends here in Rio who provide healthcare to the residents of all the favelas in Rio and they are hungry for self-compassion training to help them weather the overwhelming challenges of their work and how it can benefit their beloved patients. With economic conditions the way they are in Brazil, this is quite a challenge. My dream is to find funding from around the world to underwrite more self-compassion training here and ultimately to bring MSC teacher training to Brazil to support this amazing work. If you know of people or organizations who might fund this work, I would be thrilled to be connected to them. Please simply email me directly at steve@centerformsc and I will happily follow up. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if YOU would like to donate to the non-profit Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, go here to do so.





What Actually IS a Retreat & Why Go?

August 8, 2018

Guest Post by Beth Mulligan, PA-C

Silent Retreat: The best way to deepen your meditation practice

August 3, 2018

Consider giving yourself the gift of silent meditation retreat practice. Amidst the colors of fall in Connecticut at the Copper Beech Institute, my dear friend and colleague Beth Mulligan and I will be leading a 5-day program entitled: “Coming Home to Kindness” blending mindfulness and self-compassion in a space for contemplation, rejuvenation and deep reflection. I would be honored if you joined us. hashtag#mindfulness hashtag#meditation hashtag#retreats

For more information, see the Copper Beech website.

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?”)