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Inspiration, Expiration and the Illusion of Control: Why We Don’t Need to Try So Hard

August 5, 2012

I looked over in stop-and-go traffic a few years ago and saw it. Perched in his car seat behind his mother at the wheel, the little boy was firmly intent on the simulated kiddie dashboard hanging from his mom’s headrest in front of him. His pudgy fingers were white-knuckled on the steering wheel and shift lever, formerly smooth brow furrowed as if the weight of the world (or at least this car) were on his shoulders. I could just tell that he felt that every twitch and turn of the car was a direct result of his actions at the PlaySkool wheel. Never mind that if he lost interest and dropped the wheel that nothing different would happen, no veering into other lanes or crazy pinwheeling down the I-5 would transpire as a result.

And it struck me that we are often like this, clutching the levers and pressing the buttons of our own lives with all our might, carefully trying to coax a desired course out of the chaos of unrushing life, but who are we really kidding? How much control do we really have, and how much energy do we invest in trying to control and contrive outcomes that we are convinced are right, or good or imperative? And while we certainly can chart our course and connect with an intention to move in certain desired directions, there are often circumstances (more often than not) that are beyond our control and all we can do is navigate them like Class One rapids, clinging tenuously to our intentions and keeping our eyes on the prize.

Have you ever awoken in the morning with the firm intention to “have a good day no matter what” and found that along with your intended purpose you have had to contend with a stopped-up sink, burning toast or traffic on the freeway? I know I have, and the options are few: you can give up and resolve to try again tomorrow; you can get angry and label it a bad day; or you can see these arising phenomena as part of life that are admittedly unpleasant but don’t determine whether a day can be good or bad (tell yourself “into each life some burned toast must fall”). All are possible, but the former two options arise from clinging too tightly (like that young driver above) to needing things to be a certain way. To be specific, “My Way.”

Take breathing as a great example. It is wonderfully analogous to life. Sometimes people in our mindfulness classes will say something like “What’s the big deal about the breath, anyway?” The smart aleck in me can’t resist saying something like “Well, aside from the fact that it’s a worthwhile endeavor to engage in on a regular basis, not much!” But think about it for a moment. Breathing is a singular activity to which we can tune in whenever we wish, and the opportunity exists to actually control it for awhile. We can very dutifully make our bodies breathe out of our own intentions for a stretch of time. But by the same token, if we were left to be totally, consciously responsible for breathing for the balance of our lives, my sense is that we would frequently botch it up and end up gasping for breath and keeling over blue-faced on a regular basis. We just can’t keep up that kind of control while going about our lives, and fortunately we don’t need to! Life is like that too. We can exert control over certain aspects of our life, but things tend to turn out best when we don’t cling too tightly to that control. We can hold life lightly, remain clear on our intention and then see what unfolds. Or we can cling with a death-grip to our idea of what needs to happen and see how well THAT works out!

When it comes to meditation, we can try to breathe in certain ways, but that just gets us tangled up in trying to control a wonderful, amazing and life-giving process that actually works best when we get out of our own way. See if you can simply observe the breath moving in and out of the body without having to breathe in any particular way. Simply let the breath breathe itself and see what can come of that soft attitude and gentle kindness of attention. If you find yourself wondering what’s so special about the breath, do your own scientific experiment and just pay careful attention to its flow in and out, the inspiration and the expiration, without any preconceived notions or theoretical framework. Just ride the tide of the breath in and out of the body and see what you notice.

Oh, and that experiment you just tried? It was meditation. Pure and simple. No bells, no whistles, no steering wheels or shift levers. Pretty cool, huh? I highly recommend it.

A Zafu Too Far: When It Just Seems Impossible to Get Our Tush on the Cush

July 15, 2012

I’m sure you can relate to the scenario: the early-morning time that seemed perfect for meditation practice rolls around exceedingly early for some reason and you are lying there in your cozy bed in your flannel jammies while a virtual tennis match goes on in your head:

“Get up and meditate, it’s 5:30!”

“I don’t want too, I’m too tired today.”

“You committed to this practice. Get up!”

“I’ll meditate tonight after work.”

“You always say that and you never do it. Get up and get your butt on the zafu!”

“Five more minutes . . . “

“Seriously? You don’t expect me to fall for that one again, do you?”

If (or when) you DO get up and practice, you are glad you did and might even feel a bit smug about having overcome the inner dialogue to do what you knew was best for you.

If (or when) you DON’T get up and practice, you know that guilt-soaked aftermath of self-recriminations and self-loathing that suffuses your day and activates those old habits of mind and judgmental thoughts about your worth as a human and your ability as a meditator. Suffice it to say it ain’t pretty.

So what to do when something else beckons, more tempting than formal practice?

While I’m tempted to say “notice the temptation as one of the hindrances of meditation practice (desire, anger, sloth/torpor, restlessness and doubt) and simply allow it to be another arising in your field of awareness and see it as such,” assuming that that will lead you, ultimately to practice. But sometimes (nearly always) that isn’t so easy. But then again, who said this was going to be easy?

I’d like to suggest that if simply noticing the arising of these hindrances doesn’t lead to change in your practice, you might consider noticing that the inner ping-pong match that goes on in our heads is between a desire to practice from deep within us and our brain and intellect, which quite often does not have our own best interests at heart. Think about it: can you really trust your brain to take good care of you? As the comedian Emo Phillips once said, “I used to think my brain was the most important organ in the body. And then I realized which organ was telling me that.”

“I used to think my brain was the most important organ in the body. And then I realized which organ was telling me that.”

I recommend noticing not that loudmouthed brain of ours, but that deep yearning inside that got you up at 5:30 in the first place, that has touched the depths of mindfulness practice now and then in the past, and fuels a desire for change and ease in your life. See if you can sit with that inner wellspring of equanimity and health that sustains you much of the time, even when you aren’t aware of it fully.

And, call me crazy, consider practicing right where you are for a bit! I know it’s unconventional but if you’re going to be busy watching your mental activity unfold moment by moment about whether or not you should get up and meditate, why don’t you meditate right there and see what happens? Nobody said the cushion was magic, and what is a bed but a really big cushion anyway? Drop into your breath, let your thoughts unfold as they will anyway, and log some meditation time to boot! It’s not a compromise or an alternative to formal seated meditation, but why waste valuable moments you will never get back debating whether or not to meditate when you can meditate WHILE you debate?

For some reason, the words of Mary Oliver come to mind, from her poem Wild Geese from her book Dream Work. The whole poem is absolutely profound and beautiful, so I will include it here, but will highlight the pieces I see as relevant to this “tush on the cush” issue:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Perhaps, letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves” means the space in your warm bed for a few moments, and know that mindfulness practice happens everywhere when we open up to it, and bring a little kindness to the self-judgment that beats us up and seems to hold us back from finding our way to our formal seat in meditation. Self-compassion in those moments of self-doubt and debate can go a long way toward making the decision to sit an easier one. What do you think? Is this a slippery slope toward no formal practice?

Meditate like you walk the dog: with intention, flexibility and a retractable leash

July 8, 2012

Cody the Wonder DogHere’s a picture of Cody, my oversized Golden Retriever. He’s not the brightest flame in the canine candelabra, but he’s got charm, personality and a goofy disposition that suits his goofy human quite well. He discovered cottage cheese this weekend and appears to have a certain fondness for it.

Am I just trying to get your attention by the tried and true social media marketing way: using cute photos of animals? Well, that might be part of it, but it’s largely because walking Cody has taught me a lesson that has ultimately benefited several people in my mindfulness meditation classes.

Have you ever noticed that, when in meditation, you seem to be at the mercy of your mind? You know the feeling, you’re sitting there minding your own breath when the mind serves up a juicy thought. Perhaps you find yourself contemplating Tom Cruise’s marital woes and your odds for stepping in as his next love. Maybe it’s just the enticing smell of dinner simmering in the other room. Did you ever see the Disney Pixar Movie Up? There’s a dog in that movie (named Doug) who wears a device that allows him to talk. Bright and cheerful, Doug can carry on quite a conversation, but let him catch sight of a bushy-tailed rodent and he immediately exclaims “Squirrel!!!!” and he’s off on the chase. That is how our minds tend to be, doglike and distractible.

So what to do? We can’t change the nature of our dogs, and the same is true of our minds. They are of the nature to follow thoughts, especially if they are compelling, seductive and promise an adventure of one sort or another! However illusory or ultimately preposterous (Cody wouldn’t know what to do if he actually caught the bunnies he spots every now and then. He’d probably just lick it till it drowned in dog slobber! Or ran away.)

So how about if you cultivate the neural equivalent of a retractable leash? You know those handy devices that are spring-loaded and allow your dog to go off on little mini-adventures here and there, investigating fascinating smells, scurrying creatures and the occasional impassive feline, while you blithely continue down the path you have already chosen. You stay on track and your dog has his or her own adventure.

How do you do this with your mind? Meditate. Notice your mind doing what it does with playful curiosity, tolerance of it’s tendencies and still with a sense of intention to stay where you are. Little by little, when we let go of needing our mind/dog to go exactly where we intend to go, we find that we stay on our path and the mind follows dutifully (or at least it hovers somewhere in the vicinity). So mindfulness cultivates an allowing of the peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies of our mental activity, all the while staying on task, which is to notice. Just notice!

Next time you are sitting and your mind finds its latest squirrel, watch the chase with calm abiding amusement. Trust that if you stay here, it will return eventually, and sooner than if you had chased after it and tried to subdue it.

Give yourself a new leash on life/meditation, and make sure it’s retractable!

What if you threw a meditation and nobody came?

July 2, 2012

It occurred to me to wonder this morning what might happen if that wished-for thing actually happened one day. You know, that state you always hope for and secretly wish for (while acting all Zen-like and impassive on your cushion there in the little space between the radiator and your enormous stuffed SpongeBob Squarepants doll). Come on, you know you long for it, you cling to the idea of it, you occasionally covet it like that creepy creature Smigel in the Lord of the Rings “My precioussssss!”.

“What?” you ask. “What would I be lusting after in this way?” Well of course you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that mythical meditation where nothing, NOTHING, ventures into your mind and your awareness is as broad and expansive and empty as the Mongolian plains (or SpongeBob’s head). Pure emptiness is all there is to behold and you bathe in the otherworldly Jacuzzi of bliss and equanimity. Who knows, you might even sense a subtle lifting as if you might just levitate for your pal Spongebob if this state continues a bit longer.

Well get over it.

Could you have moments like this while meditating? Of course you could and probably will. And it will be, as they say, awesome! But a whole meditation filled with … well, not filled with anything? Get real! That’s a human brain you’ve got lodged there in your pretty little skull, and it doesn’t sit well with nothingness. There’s only one state where your brain sits quietly and obediently like a pet rock, and believe me, you ain’t lookin’ for THAT state. You’re on the “wrong side of the grass” at that point, as my colleague Saul told me today.

So you’ve got a human brain with finely-tuned frontal lobes, a highly sensitive amygdala, an insula waiting to be bulked up by meditation practice (see the work of Sara Lazar for more on that) and the Full Monty of human neuroanatomy. That means that when you inadvertently stumble upon a few fleeting moments of expansive empty awareness in meditation, you are likely to, in short order, take note of the fact that your mind is clear and, guess what, your mind will no longer be clear because it will have the thought “My mind is clear!” in it. And then of course you will be quite pleased with yourself for the clarity and promptly consider whether you have “finally gotten it” and then doubt (“hmm, maybe this isn’t really it”) will blossom, along with a sprout of pride (“I may just be the best meditator EVER!”)  and soon you will be lost in the mental and emotional weeds of your own private cranial garden party.

Sound familiar? It does to me. I find myself partying in that garden fairly often. So what do I do about it? I notice it. I accept that “Ahh, there goes that rascally brain of mine again.” I try to stop fighting and let go of needing things to be any different than they are. I’m thrilled to have a human brain that does amazing things to allow me to experience incredible things and consider amazing and intricate scenarios, while simultaneously remembering where I left my car keys and how my wife likes her coffee. So it wanders off and becomes preoccupied with random stuff that isn’t important, or is, or hasn’t happened, or happened so long ago I can barely remember it. So what? I love my brain.

So I work with it the way I tolerate the other characters in my life. With the upturned corners of my mouth, a heavy dose of perspective and a lightness of touch akin to holding a dandelion seed pod. I let it come and go while I continue to sit and breathe and be mildly entertained by the comings and goings. “Don’t believe everything you think!” the bumper sticker says. Words to live by. And the good news is you don’t have to stop thinking in order to follow them. Just stop believing (in total contrast to that 70’s Journey song, but that’s for another time.)

“Be grateful for whoever comes” is the line from the  popular Rumi poem The Guest House, and I suppose one could be equally grateful when nothing at all comes along. Just be grateful . . . be aware . . . be!

The Absurdity of Fixing Purple

June 18, 2012

Angela took me aside after class recently and guiltily shared: “I’m really growing to dread meditation practice, and I had really hoped I would like it and take to it in the way I’ve seen other people take to it. But I’m finding that almost every time I practice, I will be going along just fine and then I will be almost flattened by these intense feelings of anger and resentment that come out of nowhere. I try, I really try, to stay with them and be present with them, but they’re just so intense! I find my heart pounding, my face getting hot and tears rolling down my face and I try to figure out what triggered them. I can’t figure it out, and then I find myself getting frustrated because there’s absolutely no peace in what I am experiencing, and this is starting to seem like every other thing that I have tried to deal with my out-of-control life: something that seems promising and turns into crap when I actually try it.”

The word “disheartening” comes to mind as I contemplate your experience of these intense and unpleasant feelings, and that’s rather ironic since emotions are typically associated with the heart, so an overdose of feelings like this would seem to be the opposite of dis-heartening. Maybe “over-heartening” if I could coin a phrase? Nonetheless, it hurts, and why would anyone want to engage in something that hurts?

To paraphrase William Shakespeare from Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in our frontal lobes …” Consider the possibility that these (admittedly painful) emotions are simply phenomena that arise as part of our experience of meditation (and elsewhere) but only that. That’s not easy because we have these infernal frontal lobes that love a good paradox to analyze or a problem to solve, and like the man with only a hammer who sees everything as a nail, our brains tend to see every emotion as a fresh fault to repair or a leak to be plugged.  And it doesn’t help that these emotions hurt and we don’t want to hurt!

But stop for a moment and contemplate the arising of the feelings. What if, when they began to arise, you could begin to meet them with some degree of patience and even, dare I say it, good will? What would that be like? You’re doubting my sanity now, right? “I don’t like those feelings one little bit and hate the fact that I’m having them. Why in the world would I want to be kind to them when I really, really want to get rid of them?”

Well, let’s step back from this for a moment and consider that these are emotions that are arising in you out of a certain set of “causes and conditions” (as the Buddhists say) that are comprised of our past experiences, temperament and brain activity that we have only just begun to sort out, and we can’t control whether or not they arrive at our heart’s doorstep. They are simply what they are. They’re kind of like colors, which simply exist, rather than faults to be repaired. Would you consider trying to “fix” purple? Kind of ridiculous, don’t you think? Of course you may or may not prefer purple as the hue for your living room walls, but what are you going to do when your beloved Grandma Esther knits you an eggplant purple scarf for Christmas? If you love her as much as you say you do, you’ll accept her gift lovingly and graciously and, while noticing your distaste for the grape-hued accouterment, wrap it around your neck and proclaim “thank you SO MUCH for giving me this, I needed a new scarf!”

So what did you do with the purple scarf that you could do with these much more real and painful emotions? (And no, you can’t bury it in the closet under your barely used Thighmaster.) You could work with your relationship to them rather than the fact that they have arisen and are here. You noted the presence of your aversion to purple, but chose to honor your love for your granny (and her love for you, expressed through yarn and the occasional $10 check on special occasions) over that and just let the aversion be while you expressed gratitude for the gesture and tried it on.

Those feelings you experienced in meditation arose through no particular intention or action on your part, so could you possibly say to yourself: “It’s OK for me to feel this because it’s already here1.” You could even go so far as to place your palm on your chest above your heart and feel the warmth and kindness in this gesture. You might say to yourself (out loud or in your mind) the phrases offered by Kristin Neff in her book on self-compassion2: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”

When we recognize that experiencing emotions (of all sorts) is simply a part of being a member of the human race, and when they arise in us we are experiencing a moment of suffering, then we can begin to practice that which usually comes much more easily to us when others are suffering: compassion. In this case it is self-compassion. We pause and take a moment to consider what we might need in that moment of suffering and offer it up to ourselves. It might be the simple gift of touch or a soothing phrase as noted above, or it might be something else. The opportunity is to connect with ourselves and see what is called for in that moment and meet ourselves with kindness because we are suffering.

So what do you think? Could you practice a little self-compassion when your suffering arises in the form of these emotions and your resistance to them? Give it a try and share what you notice. And don’t forget to bring Grandma’s scarf when you go over the river and through the woods to her house next winter!”

1 The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn; Guilford Press

2 Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Neff; William Morrow

The Human Mind in Meditation: A Little Less Color, A Little More Play-by-Play

June 18, 2012

I have been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. Riding with my dad in his light blue Rambler station wagon on the windy roads of Sonoma County in Northern California on a fall Sunday afternoon, with the sounds of the Oakland Raiders on the radio. Or tossing a baseball with my brother in our backyard while listening to the transistor radio as my idol Willie McCovey and our beloved San Francisco Giants took on this or that National League foe. These warm memories are as much of the voices of the sportscasters as they are of the actual athletes and teams. When you think about it, unless you are there in the ballpark or stadium to witness it directly, most sports come to us via the conduit of these silver-tongued professionals who describe and elaborate on the actual event.

It struck me the other day that our minds could be said to be the “sportscasters” of our direct experience. What happens to us and around us (and even within us), just happens. And then our minds try to make something meaningful of those experiences. It’s not a bad thing really. As a matter of fact, it is this process that makes us uniquely human. But it does have some pitfalls. And personally, I think the culprit is John Madden.

Well, OK, not John Madden specifically, but the part of our minds that provides the so-called color commentary on our experience. It is not the stalwart Pat Summerall or Al Michaels who dutifully (and mellifluously) provide a moment by moment account of what unfolds in the game (i.e. our lived experience). It is the John Maddens and Dandy Don Merediths who pontificate, explain, extrapolate and speculate that create our suffering.

Have you lost me? Let’s see if I can explain. You are sitting and breathing, minding your own business so to speak, and “trying” to meditate (a misnomer in and of itself, but a topic for another time). You ride the flow of the breath into your body, you feel the rise of your belly as your diaphragm draws the air in, and then the settling of the belly as the air leaves. Woohoo! You just managed to be mindful of one whole breath! “I did it!” you proclaim to yourself with some sense of self-satisfaction and pride. “I usually have more trouble than this! I think I’m getting better at meditating,” you note analytically.

And that’s when your trouble began! Mr. Summerall reported the in-breath, the belly movement, the out-breath, all with an air of authenticity and trustworthiness that you have come to expect. And then John jumped in and “BAM! BOOM! You did it! You were RIGHT THERE IN THE FACE OF THAT BREATH!” Pride balloons to epic proportions, you recall a few previous experiences and you can already hear it. The familiar strains of that song, you know the words. You’ve heard that off-key Texas twang before: “Turn out the ligggghhhhhhtttss, the party’s ovvvvvverrrrrr . . .” Thanks Dandy Don.

My sense is that we are practicing the art of “Intrapersonal Play-by-Play”, noticing the unfolding of experience as an impartial witness to what happens as we sit, as we work, as we go about our daily lives and contend with all that we are faced with every day. Noticing what there is to notice, in the external environment, this body of ours, and the vast mindscape within us. But there is a part of us that wants to provide context, story arc, suspense, drama, anticipation. That is our own John Madden. Our own private color commentary.

And imagine the worst case scenario: we are used to having our color commentators chosen for us by media executives because of how they might enhance our experience or engage us positively in the game. But you and I don’t get to choose our color commentators for our intrapersonal play-by-play. They are assigned by history, experience and random forces beyond our comprehension. What if your color commentary is provided by, say, Eeyore or Chicken Little or Dr. Laura, for heaven’s sake? What then? Are you doomed?

I don’t think so. Those commentators can’t easily be silenced (and in fact the more we start to argue with them, the louder they get, and while we are arguing we are actually missing the game/our life). What are we to do?

Perhaps we can simply go back to the play-by-play. Drop into the breath, notice that while our own color commentator yammers on and on . . . and on, we can simply turn our attention to the game itself. Notice the action, check the score, feel the familiar tension in the pit of our stomach at the critical junctures, and appreciate the beauty and brilliance of the game unfolding.

And when the color commentator comments colorfully on you or your experience, thank him or her for the observation and return to the fullness of this precious moment that blooms on its own, with or without commentary, analysis or clever metaphors. It just is what it is.

It can sometimes be helpful to give your color commentator a persona, especially if it can be someone whom you take lightly like a crazy uncle or a ridiculous radio or television personality. I tend to prefer Rush Limbaugh, but perhaps that reveals more about me than necessary . . .

Who does YOUR commentator resemble? Can you imagine their face and voice issuing forth with the critical, hurtful and undermining inner dialogue with which you are exhaustingly familiar? Share your stories of the inner commentator here.

Dealing With Distraction

April 25, 2012

“I’m just sitting there, minding my own business, when PING, PING, PING, these things just come at me from all directions! Sounds, thoughts, emotions, even feelings in my body. One distraction after another and it’s NOT comfortable. I don’t like it and I’m wondering if this is how it’s supposed to be.”

“I keep finding myself sitting down to meditate with good intentions, and then I hear music from my neighbor’s apartment, or my cell phone vibrating, or my leg starts hurting, and I can’t really meditate because of all these distractions. I think I need to find a quieter place to practice or somehow shut out all these sounds and thoughts so I can actually focus on my breath.”

I have an issue with the word “distractions” when it comes to meditation, and you probably ought to know I have issues with a lot of words. “Try” and “success” and “acceptance” are just a few, but they are probably topics for another post someday. Pardon me while I come back from that distraction to make a bold (and possibly provocative) statement: Nothing is a distraction in the practice of mindfulness.

See, I told you it was provocative. Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you are already questioning the time you have spent in reading this up to this point. Perhaps you have already moved on and you aren’t even reading this post anymore and I’m writing to the empty cyberspace that you recently inhabited to read this blog. That’s OK. I’m willing to patiently stay on task and true to my intention, even with your abrupt departure.

And that’s my point.

When I say that nothing is a distraction in the practice of mindfulness, what I mean is that no thing (and this could be a sound, a thought, a sensation, a smell, whatever) is inherently a distraction in and of itself. These are simply phenomena that might arise while you are practicing meditation. Much like any experience that arises while meditating, it may arrive unbidden, unanticipated and unannounced. But it still has no power within it to become a distraction. It just is what it is.

So where does the possibility of distraction arise? Well, here’s where you come in, my friend. When that annoying sound that your roommate makes when she butters her toast becomes your own momentary, yet all-consuming personal obsession, you have made toast-buttering into a distraction. When you chase after the tingling in your right knee with an inner struggle about how to make it stop before amputation is necessary, you have left your breath and entered the distraction zone. Or maybe you are contemplating the lunch date you have planned with Dustin and where that rendezvous might lead, and awareness of sitting is somewhere in the background. You get the picture, you know the stories that can unfold in the blink of an eye or a tick of the (noisy) clock on the wall.

The point is, that we know that the universe (in the form of roommates, bodies, brains and the occasional lonely kitty) will regularly serve up a whole host of items worthy of (and begging for) your attention. But the awesome power of the practice of mindfulness is that we can begin to develop a different relationship with these co-dependent attention suckers. We can slowly, over time and practice, simply note their arising in our field of awareness and remain steady with our attention upon the breath or whatever we intended to attend to. Let them come and go, tap us on the figurative shoulder and whisper “can you come out and play today?” All that we need do is gently acknowledge their presence and calmly continue to practice. It is only when we invest our energy (in the form of attention, thinking, analysis, struggle, etc.) in these phenomena that they become distractions.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it out. The next time you engage in the formal practice of mindfulness, see if you can take this stance of “No Distractions” for some period of time and observe what happens when things arise. And you know they will. After all, even when we are feeling some degree of success (there’s another of those words!) at keeping our attention on the breath, other stuff is arising right? The hum of traffic outside the window, the touch of clothing on the skin, the random memory of Aunt Peg’s famous tuna salad. It all flows by and sometimes we aren’t distracted by it. There is an awareness that it’s present, but we can stay on task too. We allow its presence without the need to engage with it.

See what happens when you try this more gentle allowing of “distractions” and please report back what you notice. We would love to hear how you found this reframing of distraction. (And send the recipe for the tuna salad if you think it’s worth a taste.)


An end to suffering in silence on the zafu.

February 11, 2012

If you have found your way to mindfulness meditation, by any means, and then found yourself struggling with challenges, doubts, obstacles, questions, curiosities or just plain stuck-ness, then you’ve come to the right place. Our intention here is to provide an opportunity for those who are practicing alone (especially those outside of spiritual or religious communities where teachers and guides are readily available), to vent, share, ask, listen, search or lurk in the shadows in search of wisdom, tips, ideas or resources.

Take a look around and see what you can find. If you can’t find and you need it, then post a comment or question and one of our crack team of meditation teachers will do his or her best to help you find what you’re looking for, even if it isn’t what you think. That’s what we’re here for: to surprise you and support you, and maybe even bring a smile to your lips and lift to your sit.