As summer deepens, many meditation practitioners find their practice slipping as routines change, weather brightens and commitments come calling. And it’s not just meditators, the natural ebb and flow of life cause us to forget and remember over and over again. But the idea of It’s Too Late really means that once we have sensed meaning and purpose, it is always there to rediscover. Seeds are planted in us as we interact with others and the world. And we can certainly cultivate them so they grow into habits, practices and ways of being.
In his book, The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield tells the story of the Golden Buddha of Sukotai. This Buddha had been covered in plaster in the 18th century in order to protect it from theft. It wasn’t until 1954 that a crack appeared, revealing the brilliant Golden Buddha underneath. In much the same way, each of us contains within us a loving heart and a luminous spirit. We may have been gone far away from our desired path for a very long time. But we can always return, and begin again.
We hope to see you Sunday evenings as we remember that It’s Too Late together.
“If cabin pressure should change, panels above your seat will open revealing oxygen masks; reach up and pull a mask towards you. Pull it over your nose and mouth, and secure with the elastic band. The plastic bag will not fully inflate, although oxygen is flowing. Secure your own mask first, before helping others.”
As the example above illustrates, some of life’s most important lessons are right in front of us if we pay attention. Our very own heart is designed to take care of itself first. The surface and interior of the heart is lined with blood vessels that nourish the heart so it can perform its task of distributing blood throughout the body. Without properly functioning coronary arteries, our heart will be weak and won’t be able to feed our body. Ignoring our own needs for too long, we may awaken to a broken body, a broken heart and a fragile mind.
What’s more, caring for others at our own expense can set up an unexpected judgment towards the recipients of our support. Brene Brown describes in this video how we come to view others asking for help as a sign of weakness that we may not allow in ourselves. Brown writes, “When you can not ask for help without self-judgment, you are never really offering help without judgment.” Ouch.
In a recent men’s group, a participant explained “I am selfish about a lot of things, why not be selfish about myself?” Despite the seeming paradox, this statement contains wisdom about how long held beliefs and expectations color our everyday experience. In a culture of illusory independence, perceived scarcity, and exuberant selfishness, we somehow fail to take care of ourselves while also neglecting our fellow earthlings.
We don’t have wait for a harrowing airplane ride to take care of ourselves first. Mindfulness can be a pathway for self-care through practices of self-compassion, lovingkindness, forgiveness, vulnerability and gratitude. You can find guided meditations to cultivate self-care on our podcast including practices of intention, lovingkindness and compassion. In particular, check out the podcast episode entitled “The Seed of Intention.”
“Go inside. The outside is seductive. Inside, you’ll find loving awareness.” – Ram Dass
I was quite struck by the short documentary featuring Ram Dass, Going Home. For me, it offers a simple, beautiful message,
After a long-career traveling the globe teaching meditation, Dass suffered a stroke in 1997. He initially lost speech and movement, elements of which never returned. He has declared, “I don’t wish you the stroke but I wish you the grace from the stroke.”
Granted, Dass’ idyllic Hawaii setting and support system probably make welcoming what arises less daunting than it would be for someone without such resources. I don’t think that takes away from his message of loving awareness, his primary meditation practice.
Suffering and difficulty are often isolating. But many, many people are going through the same thing. This perspective is a crucial component of self-compassion and equanimity. The poet David Whyte offers an invitation to being with our experience in his poem, Everything Is Waiting For You, which he reads below. He writes, “Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.”
Inspired by Dass, I’ve been practicing with the slogan, “Love Everything.” It is clearly an aspirational intention, not likely to be fully realized. But it certainly aids in discernment because if I find something I truly can not love, then I know it is something I should pay attention to (anyone thinking politics here?).
Starting with myself, I can love my meandering, ruminating, fretting mind. While it may not always serve me well, I know it is trying to protect me and keep me safe from danger. This practice has helped in difficult interactions recently. It allows me to be a bit more playful and curious, less judgemental. In fact, one of the things I’ve had the best results from is silently declaring “You’re my best friend!” or “I love you!” instead of disagreeing with the person in front of me. A mindful practice, it puts a space between the stimulus and the response so that I respond thoughtfully and not habitually. More than thoughtlessly “loving everything”, this practice acknowledges what is happening. It makes space for an experience that we can’t push away without it circling back and finding us.
Going home is about connecting with our internal experience. It is about the practice of RAIN – recognizing, acknowledging and investigating what arises and then offering nourishment for what it needs. We can make a home for it.
The other day, I tried to be in two places at once. And I found myself nowhere. Literally sprinting with a thermos of hot water to a tea meditation I was supposed to be hosting and which had “started” five minutes earlier. “I must hurry so I can slow down,” I thought to myself.
The great tragedy of speed, writes David Whyte, “is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are. We start to lose sight of any colleagues who are moving at a slower pace, and we start to lose sight of the bigger, slower cycles that underlie our work.”
And this has been happening for centuries. James Joyce wrote of middle class Ireland in the early 1900s, offering the famous line, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” The practice of meditation brings us back to a single place. The here and the now. We might not stay there very long but it is a practice. We catch ourselves and return. Beginning again.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
Join Center for Self-Care this summer to explore together. We make time to come to stillness and silence in order to tap our intuition and wisdom, then share it with each other. Visit www.center4selfcare.com/comingevents to learn more and register.
Whyte speaks of the inevitable times in our lives when we are “waking everyday into the great to-do list of life. And the first thing that crossed your mind are all of the things that you have to accomplish throughout the day. But the accomplishments are all logistical, there all strategic and there is very little in the way of imagination. And you don’t who is going to be there when you clear away that list and so you simply create another list for the following day.” I recently found a fabulous morning meditation from David Gandelman on Insight Timer that short-circuits that impulse to do and first asks: what does the world want from me today and what do I want from it? ”
Our culture pulls us into this orbit of speed. That said, we can pause most any time. Or slow down. Do less better. In an interview with Krista Tippet, poet and author Naomi Shihab Nye describes the concept of Yutori. Its something worth checking out. An example of Yutori is “leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around.”
But we have no time for this! Or do we? There’s an old tale of the student who asked a teacher how longer she should meditate each day. “20 minutes,” declared the wise teacher. The woman replied, “but I don’t have time for that.” The teacher sat quickly then responded, “then sit for 40 minutes each day.” It is exactly in the moments when it feels like we don’t have time that it is imperative to slow down. It could mean stopping to say hello to a stranger, taking the dog for a casual walk without our phone, or writing a note to a friend you haven’t seen for awhile. It is up to you. The world can speed along without you for awhile.
Let’s face it, meditation is not a direct path to peace and enlightenment. It is a deeply humbling practice that invites us to pay attention to what is happening regardless of its quality. Still, we can find ourself treating is as a grim duty that just adds to our list of to-dos.
At the same time, the practice inclines us towards compassion, kindness and joy. As we observe the response of our mind, we perhaps learn not take things so seriously because the mind does what it wants to do. What is your practice like? If you are anything like me, you’ll probably recognize this:
Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about three things: my family, meditation and stand-up comedy. After my dad died in 2011, comedy (specifically WTF with Marc Maron) was the one tool that helped me grieve without trying to avoid the grief itself. It allowed me to feel what I was feeling without it consuming me. I was able to sense the common experience of these painful emotions in the stories comedians were telling. Comedians take the serious and the mundane and create a world to explore the range of human emotions. Many comedians have taken up meditation and spiritual paths including Pete Holmes, Natasha Leggero, Joe Rogan, and, below, Jen Kirkman. You owe it to yourself to watch the first 15 minutes of her Just Keep Livin’? special on Netflix, but you can get a sneak peak in the video below:
I’ll be sharing more stand-up comedy with you in a future blog post but in the meantime, you might try the practice below on the Insight Timer App.
One of my favorite teachers, David Gandelman of Grounded Mind, offers a meditation called Letting Go of Seriousness that I encourage you to check out on Insight Timer or just online. He declares, “humor is the grease and seriousness is the glue” as we work with challenging circumstances and long-standing habits. His humorous style offers several opportunities to lighten and soften throughout the meditation. Below, he offers an introduction without the meditation. Enjoy.
June is one of my favorite months. It brings transition, not only in the seasons, but in my work as a teacher and a parent. I found last summer that our mindfulness work actually picked up, not because our program participants were less busy, but because the people around them were less busy which seemingly gave them permission to slow down as well.
And so it goes. At the same time, routines change and may create convenient excuses to drop your self-care routine as well. So it is a good time to recommit and recenter.
Each day in June, Center for Self-Care will be offering Questions for a Mindful Journey. Like and follow us on Facebook to view and respond to the day’s question. We also have a limited number of slots for a private email group working with the same questions.
To the left, you’ll see our summer offerings. You’ll see numerous opportunities to practice and join in fellowship, both in person and online.
Programs for Everyone
Meditate4SelfCare is a twice-weekly, free online meditation. Sundays at 9pm and Tuesdays at 8:30pm.
Programs for Men
Mindful Dads Meeting is a monthly drop-in group. Meditation instruction is provided along with time to write and reflect.
Men Sitting By A Fire is a monthly drop-in gathering where participants share stories on a different theme each time.
Mindful Men Meeting (email for details) is a monthly membership group that begins with practice followed by discussion of a topic such as busyness, fear, and joy.
The practice of mindfulness asks us to notice and allow. Each moment is an opportunity to notice what’s here, allowing it to be here without changing anything, pushing away or avoiding. It is important because it can help us to see what is really here. Things will change, emotions will come and go, but when we step back, we open space to identify what is important to us and what we need for our own care.
You don’t need to be sitting with a group to reflect on these questions. You might even try it out now:
This post is the sixth in a series that offers teachings to support a mindful practice and lifestyle. They are based on gatherings of Mindful Dads Meeting but offer universal wisdom suitable for anyone.
There are so many motivations that bring us to mindful practice. We may be stuck in regrets of the past or fearful of challenges in the future. Oftentimes, our attempt to control our circumstances leaves us worse for the wear. When we hold on too tight, we get rope burn.
The formula above reminds us that we can feel pain, unpleasant and negative emotions, but still experience joy and contentment. It is only when we resist and react that the pain is literally multiplied into suffering. We can incline ourselves towards joy by allowing for our emotions, holding them lightly and letting them come and go on their own time.
As we discussed in our group, I offered two conditions for joy. It’s as simple as when
people pay attention to us
we receive a message that says, “I’m here for you and I care about you”
Interestingly, we can often these gifts to ourselves through self-compassion and self-care. We can bring our attention inward and treat ourselves with love and forgiveness. In the practice below, we use an awareness of the body to find meaning and purpose in our experience.
Perhaps not as elegant as the art of self-compassion, the art of failure is a discipline rich with wisdom and insight. Much of our lives can be spent avoiding failure, but it will find us. The practice of mindfulness let’s us practice with failure. We bring our attention to our breath or our body or sounds and inevitably find ourselves lost in thought or caught up in an emotion. Our simple but not easy task is to return our attention. Noticing and allowing whatever is arising. Through this, an emotional resilience is built. Why not try this simple practice:
Our culture offers a message that “FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.” Often, it is a marketing message aimed at making us want what is being sold so we will feel complete. We create a narrative that something is wrong with us (or the fool who messed everything up for us), not sitting with the rawness of emotions like doubt, frustration, or sadness:
We try to avoid failure through perfectionism, procrastination and blame. But the feeling of failure offers us the opportunity to learn and to grow. These failure management strategies correlate to the three poisons of buddhist practice: grasping, aversion and delusion.
Looking to begin or revive a mindfulness practice? Center For Self-Care can help. Every Sunday (9pm) and Tuesday (8:30pm) evening, we offer a live virtual guided meditation that can be accessed online through your computer or cellphone or by calling in on your phone. This month, we are offering a free 28-day Meditation Challenge. Check it out below and email us to join:
In attempting to meet our expectations, we try to turn success and failure into a science. Suggesting there may be some kind of magic formula. In reality, life is more complex. Certainly, we can set the conditions for success but we can also reframe our experience in a way that allows failure as an option. It may be that now is just not the right time for our wishes to be realized. Ajahn Brahm tells the traditional story of the person whose good (or bad) fortune turns out to be just the opposite with the benefit of perspective.
“is a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea. So the waves keep coming, and you keep cultivating your courage and bravery an sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward. After a while, it will begin to seem to you that the waves are getting smaller and smaller. And they won’t knock you over anymore.”
One final thing to remember is that everyone fails. It may seem like you are the first person this has ever happened to, but ask around. I bet you’ll hear some stories.
In our last gathering, we explored What Happens When You Can’t Figure Out The Answer? Human beings, and often men in particular, have a tendency to try to solve, fix, and resolve issues and challenges so they “go away.” We want to get it out of there. This is natural. Our natural instinct is to preserve our safety and our security. So we become doers, we become fixers. And these acts become our identity.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
– Wendell Barry
This post is the fifth in a series that offers teachings to support a mindful practice and lifestyle. They are based on gatherings of Mindful Dads Meeting but offer universal wisdom suitable for anyone.
So what happens when we can’t figure it out? We may worry that our identity is tarnished. We scramble. We blame. We argue. We withdraw. Sometimes we ask for help, but we have received thousands of cultural messages that asking for help represents weakness. Feelings of inadequacy and failure to live up to expectations arise. What to do?
And we can also bring self-care and self-compassion. We recognize that we aren’t the only ones who have ever experienced this. Enjoy the guided practice below that reminds us of our shared humanity and our ability for self-soothing:
Please join Center For Self-Care every Sunday at 9pm or Tuesday evening at 8:30pm for Meditate4SelfCare. Simply login through this link. Open to men and women.
Uninvited and unpleasant circumstances arrive in our life with frightening regularity. We can try to push away our experience, but all too often, our aversion makes it worse. And when we carry around this “dung”, it weighs us down (and, figuratively, makes us smell). If instead, we use it as fertilizer to cultivate a deeper wisdom and understanding, we grow and evolve.
My arrival to the practice of meditation followed this path. All at once, I lost my father and my business. My wife was struggling with a health issue, school wasn’t going so well for either of the kids and I was having trouble sleeping. My response was to try to fix everything. To grab the reigns of control so tightly that not one more thing could go wrong. My teacher likes to say, “What you resist persists.” And it did. Any effort to solve these problems just created more problems. It wasn’t until I let go a bit, felt the discomfort, and watched my experience play out that life came back in to balance.
Ajahm Brahm, author of Who Ordered This Truckload Of Dung? was trained in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahm Chah (also Jack Kornfield’s teacher). His unique brand of humor makes meditation accessible and relatable. Below, he shares the simile of the dung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx2dnLxO2nM
His approach is very forgiving. He reminds that there are three things to know about the piles of dung that surround us, be they big or small:
1) You did not ask for this dung. 2) You can’t send it back to where it came from. 3) It really stinks (to the point of nearly being unbearable).
We can either respond to the dung delivery by filling our pockets with it, our bags, our belongings and so on, carrying it with us wherever we go. This is unlikely to make us many friends. The alternative is to see the dung and get to work. We bring it around back to the garden and gently turn it into the soil of our experience. With patience and time, the pile becomes smaller and our garden grows stronger. When we see our challenges as fertilizer, we can use them to cultivate an abundant garden of flowers, fruits, vegetables and love.
This isn’t easy, but we can practice! We meditate and notice what is arising, the thoughts, feelings and sensations that distract us from the object of our attention, be it the breath, the body or sounds. “Working the dung” is aspirational. There is no way our pile will disappear. But when we catch ourselves over and over again, we are literally training our brain to hold our experience more loosely.
Just this week, one of my son’s teachers introduced me to the Aran Islands, just off the coast of Ireland. These islands became the home for displaced Catholics hundreds of years ago. They arrived to a giant pile of rocks:
With patience, they built the rocks into walls. They brought sand to the terraces they’d carved out. And finally they brought nutrient-rich manure and seaweed to mix in to the new soil. Ultimately, they created one of the most fertile agricultural landscapes in Ireland. The secret ingredient was the dung. These are the ingredients of our lives. What will we do with them?