Opening to Vulnerability

This August, Center For Self-Care is exploring Vulnerability and Wholeheartedness with several programs including Sunday mornings at Main Line Unitarian Church and Wednesday nights at Balance For Life Yoga in Devon, PA. Our goal is to apply the work of Brene Brown to the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

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https://www.stresstostrength.com/tame-your-busy-mind/

Vulnerability, as defined by Brown, encompasses uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. As a meditator, we practice this on the cushion. We sit with our experiences. We get distracted or lost in thought, and then we come back, again and again. Meditation helps us create space for experience by moving from thoughtless reactivity to thoughtful responsivity. It requires us to be with our feelings, our discomfort, not to mention the failure of losing our attention. It also brings the invitation to choose – many times, the reflection offered by meditation helps us determine what is meaningful to us so that we may act boldly and bravely.

Using vulnerability to get us to a stage of wholehearted living involves the interplay of own internalized shame messages and our capacity for empathy. As we recognize the universal  human experience that our shame messages represent (things like “who do you think you are?” or “Your not good enough”), an empathy emerges to heal and open us to authenticity. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown offers 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living as well as the barriers to experiencing them,

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In our Sunday gathering, I shared the story of a creative block in my first job. It took letting go of my perception of others expectations to let go in to creativity.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 8.00.14 PMBrown’s work has impacted my life and helped me soften in to my experience. Throughout August, we’ll be listening to her interviews with Krista Tippett of On Being each Sunday and bring her theories in to practice at Simply Meditation every Wednesday from 7:15 to 8pm. Please join us. You can also check out The Poetry of Vulnerability.

Below you’ll find the interview we listened to on August 4. Among the segments we didn’t get to listen to is an exploration of vulnerability and gender (~20min mark), parenting (~28min) and culture (~39min). Enjoy.

From Struggle to Self-Care

How do we take the first step toward our care?

We sometimes get caught up in the fix, wanting to change things especially when we are feeling pain. Can we perhaps instead of curing in this moment offer ourselves care. Maybe if we can take a moment to see our pain and acknowledge it, we can then see what we need to take care of ourselves. This can be the first step, acknowledging that we are struggling in this moment. In this moment can we pause to see what’s here and be with our pain and struggle. Seeing our pain may be the first step toward acceptance, compassion, and kindness toward ourselves. After we check in, it may be helpful to then ask ourselves this very important question, to offer ourselves the care we deserve and need. What do I need for my care? See what arises and notice what’s here. Our awareness can lead to healthy and caring choices for ourselves and the people in our lives.


Check out the great programs offered by Center For Self-Care to the right of this post. Josh will be at the UMCC for a five week class Tuesday Nights from 7-8pm from October 8-November 5. This class is an opportunity for adults to take time to pause and care for themselves. No experience needed. Register here today.

Time For Joy

Have you ever wondered “where does joy come from and how can I get it?” I have recently been exploring the Buddhist practice of Muditā, or Sympathetic Joy. It is cultivated by intentional practice of delighting in other’s wellbeing. Sharing in others joy can offer a lifeline, an expansiveness that builds on our connection with others.

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Buddhist teachings offer the Brahmavihāra, translated as the Four Immeasurable Qualities of Being. They include Compassion, Lovingkindness, Equanimity and Joy. Joy is translated from the Pali word Muditā, the nuance of which includes the concept of sympathetic or appreciative joy. The traditional meditation on joy, like those of compassion and lovingkindness, begins by imagining beings and offering your wish for them to experience this state.

While meditating on joy can help settle the mind and make one feel more connected and happy, the most exciting quality to me is its empathetic qualities. Usually we think of empathy in terms of identifying and connecting with difficult emotions in others. But can it work the other way around? By finding joy in others, we can awaken the joy that lives in each of us. How beautiful to think, “I know how you feel” when we see another person full of joy and delight! This activation carries the secret – that we hold the tools for joy inside of us. With presence, mindfulness, and of course practice, we can find joy and experience its benefits.


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Practice with Center For Self-Care every Wednesday night at 7:15pm at Balanced For Life Yoga in Devon, PA. Email or click here to register today.


I’ve been meditating for many years, spending weeks at a time meditating on compassion and lovingkindness. These meditations ask us to visualize loved ones, friends, strangers, those in need and even difficult people. Oftentimes, these meditations suggest we bring someone who is suffering into our consciousness. We offer them our wishes for compassion, health, safety and peace.

Psychotherapist Brian Williams offers an interesting take on the joy meditation. His meditation asked me to bring someone who is doing really, really well into my thoughts. When I first practiced this, I felt an explosion in my mind. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring someone who was just plain doing well as the subject of my practice. It was an opening: “Oh! I can offer my wishes to those doing great too.” And there is no need to set the bar impossibly high. I began with my children, one of whom has had a strong improvement in school and the other who has been skillfully managing his anxiety. Sure, they have difficulties but in general, things are going pretty well. As I practiced, I was able to recognize their joy and realize that I had my own measure of it as well.

The next time you sit, bring to mind someone who is filled with joy, perhaps someone who is doing really well right now. Create an image of them. Then repeat these phrases silently:

54eba5a005c198b1ae99a9f3b3ddd19b_-real-estate-company-in-lotus_2000-920.jpegMay your happiness increase.

May your success continue to grow.

May you continue to create the conditions for peace and freedom in your life.

I see your success and I wish for it to grow.

I’ve recorded a version of this meditation, 7 Mindful Minutes: Sensing Joy, which you can access via iTunes or Soundcloud.


More tools to cultivate joy

You can subscribe to my podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Player FM or download individual episodes using the links below:

The Power of a Smile blog or podcast.

The Power of Gratitude blog or podcast.

The Power of Generosity blog or podcast.

Jack Kornfield has numerous talks and writings on joy including the video below.

Another way to share in the joy of others is by journaling on gratitude each week. I do these as part of my reflection on teaching adolescents – usually these reflections and stories involve a discovery by a student or a kind act I witnessed. In this way, I can share in the joy of others and activate it in myself. There is some great research on the benefits of such practice.

originally published March 31, 2017

Sitting With Your Eyes Closed

If this post’s title were a Jeopardy clue, the question might be, “What is meditation?” But more likely, a description of meditation would go far beyond that into the minutiae of not only what meditation is but how to do it. The fact is though, just putting your body there, sitting quietly, and closing your eyes is a solid first few steps.

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Photo by Kelvin Valerio on Pexels.com

During the summer, I aim to meditate each morning before my day begins. I try to keep away from cellphones, computers, and anything that might dive me headlong into my vast list of “to-do’s” that await me. Yesterday, I awoke and quickly stumbled in to the backyard to practice. Forty-five minutes later, I had tended the garden, rearranged some furniture and moved firewood. I wasn’t electronically connected but I certainly wasn’t meditating. Once I arrived at my seat, I closed my eyes and brought attention to my breath. Immediately, I became distracted. “You’re doing it wrong,” “You are too fidgety,” “You aren’t even meditating,” were the thoughts that entered my awareness. And then it dawn on me, “I’m just sitting with my eyes closed.” From my judging mind’s point-of-view, that was meant to be a criticism. But as a practitioner, I was able to see the utility of such a practice.

Sitting with my eyes closed doesn’t ask too much of me. It is hard to do it wrong as long as I’m, well, sitting with my eyes closed. At the same time, there is something quite radical about taking this step. We spend much of our days in a blur of speed and doing. If our eyes are closed, it is usually with the intention to rest or to sleep. Sitting with my eyes closed, I am not talking, moving or accomplishing much of anything. But, I am creating space. I’m creating space to observe my experience and allow my wisdom and intuition a seat at the table. This radical practice reintroduces choice to my experience as I let go of habits that don’t serve me and bring intentional, thoughtful responses to whatever arises.

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The global buzz about mindfulness usually focuses on “being present” and being aware of what is happening in any given moment. It asks the question, “What is happening?” Just as important is another question, “Can I be with it?” Essentially, this question asks, given what is happening, how am I (or will I) relate to it? This is such a critical question when we consider that the problem with stress isn’t necessarily the stressor itself but how we react to it. Our stress response. We can bring out the tools of fight or flight OR we can, as Jack Kornfield writes, “Be aware of the waves and rest seated in the midst of them.”

To be sure, this takes practice. It is one of the reasons we try to find a quiet space to practice. But this practice isn’t about eliminating distractions or clearing our minds. Instead, it is an invitation to whatever might come, especially unpleasant sensations, to join in conversation, telling us what it needs and giving us the space to respond. You can listen to a full teaching above or practice the meditation below.

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Join Center For Self-Care every Wednesday at 7:15 pm for Simply Meditation, a weekly drop-in at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy in Devon, PA.

The Power of a Smile

We all know what it feels like to see a friendly face and a smile in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

But that doesn’t always happen because of two dynamics – everyone is in their own world so they don’t remember to smile and we don’t remember to look.

Awhile back, I put together a list of 10 intentions for my everyday life. Along with reducing electronics use and spending quality time with my family, I included the one-word intention, “smile.” While my track record to-date on the other 9 intentions is pretty good, my intention to smile has been neglected. Sometimes I don’t feel like smiling. Nonetheless, just a small amount of practice has me feeling benefits already.

Click to download our most recent podcast on iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud.

This podcast includes a guided meditation on the smile. There isn’t any expectation of results or for it to be a certain way, just an exercise to experiment and see what comes up. If you find yourself saying, “I’m not good at this!” you are probably doing it right! Instead of truly trying to get you to smile all the time, it is intended to support awareness of what’s happening inside, how you are feeling and what you are thinking. You can find a shorter version below or join us for Simply Meditation each week in-person or online,

A simple smile can trigger physiological and chemical changes in our body as well as impact our emotions. You don’t even need to “feel it” to have an impact. Through this process, your can transform an intention into an inclination and then into an action.

One researcher, Dr. Robert Zajonc was responsible for early research that suggested one’s smile can actually contribute to a feeling of wellbeing as opposed to just reflecting it. Daniel Goleman writes of two such studies, one that showed simply placing the muscles of your face in the pattern of a particular emotion elicits that emotion. The other found that blood temperatures in the brain were impacted by different facial expressions, suggesting that brain processes work differently depending on your outer expression. You can find 9 more benefits of smiling by following this link.

originally written by Marc Balcer for the Your Mindful Coach Blog.

Not Knowing

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 10.52.00 AMAs a child, I remember a slogan on a coffee cup that read, “I finally got it all together. Now where did I put it?” Can you relate? My life often feels like a never-ending cycle of figuring things out and then realizing I didn’t have it right. It’s a cycle of Knowing and Humbling. I read a book that brings an insight then build a system or habit to incorporate it into my life. Or I take a new approach in a relationship. At first, it’s working great. My head grows a little bigger and I become self-righteous. And then it falls apart.

There is an oft-repeated story that sheds light on our efforts create certainty and stability out of a mysterious and chaotic world,

The Chinese tell the story of an old man who owned a bony plow horse. One spring afternoon the horse ran away. The old man’s friends, trying to console him, said, “We’re so sorry about your horse, old man. What a misfortune you’ve had.” But the old man said, “Bad news, good news-who knows?”

A few days later the horse returned home leading a herd of wild horses. Again the friends came running. Filled with jubilation, they cried, “How wonderful!” But the old man whispered, “Good news, bad news-who knows?”

Then the next day, when the farmer’s son was trying to ride one of the new horses, the young man was thrown to the ground and broke both legs. The friends gasped. The old man stood still and said, “Bad news, good news-who knows?”

And a short time later when the village went to war and all the young men were drafted to fight, the farmer’s son was excused because of two broken legs. Good news. Bad news. Who knows?

Adapted from http://topmoralstories.blogspot.co.uk/2008/05/bad-news-good-news-who-knows.html

So I can try to figure everything out or I can just allow myself to not know. I can have a guess based off probabilities but I don’t have to foreclose the rest of the possibilities. As it turns out, not knowing can be exhilarating or even relaxing. Not knowing can open our minds and hearts to curiosity and wonder.

In the video below, Zen Master Bon Soeng declares “Knowing separates things. Good, bad, right, wrong. Not knowing greets wonder and curiosity and aliveness.Being in this moment. Right here and now even if we can’t quite make sense of it. Not knowing is alive. With uncertainty, anticipation, fear and excitement.

Technology and interconnection have enabled us to have 24/7 access to information at our fingertips. So we have the perception that everything is knowable. Comedian Pete Holmes observes, “There was a time that if you didn’t know something, you just didn’t know!” So we have less practice of sitting with uncertainty because much of what we think we want to know can be uncovered with a simple Google search.

Meditate with C4SC

Join us every Wednesday at 7:15 pm for Simply Meditation at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, 45 Berkley Road, Devon. Each week, we offer a short teaching, a guided meditation and time for shared reflection. Register at https://www.balancedforlifeyoga.com/schedule.html or email marc@center4selfcare.com for details.

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Don’t Know Mind

Zen Master Suzuki Roshi wrote, “A beginner’s mind is wide open and questioning. An expert’s mind is closed.” The certainty of knowing limits the possibility of change. Not knowing can be a powerful tool for developing wisdom and accessing intuition. Our experience is impermanent and ever-changing such that what we think we know is true no may not longer be true, or perhaps it never was.

We can practice inviting uncertainty in meditation. It may be as simple as offering the phrase “don’t know,” whenever we get caught up in a thought or busy solving a problem. Or we can invite it into the challenges and difficulties we face to see what comes up. A helpful resource is Pema Chodron’s short book, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion.

What To Do With A Busy Mind

busymind
https://www.stresstostrength.com/tame-your-busy-mind/

There is nothing wrong with a busy mind. The human brain entertains thousands thoughts each day, perhaps as many as one every second. We walk around with a “monkey mind” sitting atop our shoulders. This mind creates stories and narratives as we make sense of our experience.  It is evolutionarily adaptive, helping us survive physical threats and navigate psycho-emotional challenges. That said, most of our thoughts are repeats, the “Top Ten Tunes” of anticipation, worry and regret.

What can we do with a busy mind? While we can’t eliminate thoughts, we can literally train our brain to become less reactive to whatever impulses or urges find their way in to our consciousness. If you’re like me, any efforts to ignore or exile thoughts just causes them to multiply. So we aren’t going to clear or empty our mind. Instead, we can bring a curious attention to whatever arises, instead observing and engaging with thoughts so they don’t have quite the control over us that they usually do.

You’ll find four strategies for working with a busy mind below,

1. Let the mind wonder and wander

mind-wandering.jpgMany beginning meditators find themselves frustrated that they can’t clear their mind. But that is not the point. A first step might be simply allowing what arises and being curious about it. There is no need to judge or try to make things a certain way. This practice can be relaxing and relieving because it is not asking you to do anything but to observe the unfolding of your experience.

 

2. Walk it off with The Mind Eraser

4319_f33bc8c05e5d02556bbeaf5e74caccbdSitting still might feel like torture when the mind is busy. A wonderful movement-based practice to try is Walking Meditation. In particular, try out sequential counting, or as I call it, The Mind Eraser. To begin, walk at a natural pace. Become aware of the cadence of your steps. Then count each step, in a very particular way. The right foot is “one,” the left foot is “one,” the right foot is “two,” the left foot is “one,” the right foot is “two,” the left foot is “three”. The sequence of counting will look like this: 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on until you get to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Then begin to count down, start with “ten,” then “ten, nine” and so on until you get to 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. What next? Begin again. If you lose track, just pick up wherever you think you may have been. Confused? That’s practically the point. The mind becomes overwhelmed with counting and the discursive thoughts become a bit quieter.

3. Ask the mind a question

If you can ask a beautiful question, you’ll find the answer often lies several layers below our normal mode of thinking. In fact, the answer might be held in the body, in a felt sense that can not be named but is instead felt. In this practice from Martine Batchelor, the question becomes the anchor of the meditative experience. Instead of seeking a response to “What is this?” the practitioner instead notices what arises.

 

4. Let it be

In her poem Allow, Dana Faulds begins, “There’s no controlling life. Try corralling a lighting bolt. . .” Buddhist philosophy identifies three poisons that keep us in a state of suffering: grasping, aversion and delusion. We seek pleasure, avoid pain and bend reality to our preferences. Another possibility is to try to let things be just in this moment. Perhaps we will act or speak differently in the future, but whatever is here now is here now. Meditation teacher Tara Brach offers some suggestions in practice of what one can say when dealing with unpleasant thoughts or sensations. I particularly like her offer to say “yes” or “this too” or even “I consent” to whatever comes up.


Simply Meditation

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The practices of meditation can be transformational but they aren’t always easy. It helps to have a group and a local teacher to support you in your practice. Every Wednesday evening at 7:15pm, Marc Balcer and Center For Self-Care offer a drop-in teaching and guided meditation at Balanced For Life Yoga in Devon, PA. Click here to register and join us.

 

 

The Refuge of a Mindful Pause

Danna Faulds’ poem, Walk Slowly, begins “It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection.” No matter the challenge, suffering or chaos; we can still find moments that bring us back to meaning and connection. We can find it in ourselves.

This post offers resources from our April 28 Mindful Pause retreat which was subtitled, “Finding Peace and Refuge in a Busy Life.” Our approach emphasized simplicity, patience, understanding and self-compassion.

We began with three invitations for our time together,

While we meditate in our chair or cushion to build the skills of wisdom and compassion, these invitations are a recipe for authentic, wholehearted living. It just takes practice.

Poetry is an important tool for pausing that we introduced through our work. Allowing the words to flow into you and through you,

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

This Is What I Have To Say To You by Danna Faulds – “You already are all that you need to be.”

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver – “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

We also utilized resources from Kristin Neff’s self-compassion.org website including the Soften, Soothe, Allow practice. This can be particularly helpful when building new habits.


Starting with ourselves, we quickly discover the dance of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Oftentimes, we run away from it. But as we notice, we introduce a choice of how to relate to whatever is happening in this moment. It can be helpful to simply drop in and experience whatever we are feeling without trying to change it or make it a certain way. This makes it simple, but not easy. Being with what is. Welcoming everything.

Along with patience and understanding, a dose of self-compassion is critical. As we experiment with our difficulties, we often slip in to the habit of self-judgment and criticism. And this is just what the medicine of Mindful Self-Compassion offered by Kristin Neff is all about. Self-Compassion consists of three elements: Mindfulness, Shared Experience and Self-Kindness. First, we must know when we are being hard on ourselves. A bit of reflection helps us recognize that we are not alone in this suffering, that it is part of the human experience. Finally, we can offer a self-kindness or self-soothing, that activates our relaxation response, something that lives within us. The practice belows invites an experimentation with how a soothing tooth can calm and relax the body.


Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 7.57.58 PMJoin Center For Self-Care for Fierce Self-Compassion, a three session offering on Wednesdays, May 1, 8 and 15 at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy in Devon, PA. Attend one, some or all sessions.  Through teachings, reflective writing, practice and discussion, our group will cultivate mindfulness skills that promote self-compassion. No experience is necessary, just an inclination towards curiosity and exploration. Sign up today.


Our afternoon included guided Qi Kong practice, the Open Focus body scan practice shown below, and a sensory walk through the beautiful Bryn Mawr College campus.

Finally, we close with time for reflection. After you have done some of this work yourself, you might try out Josh’s guided practice below,

 

Self-Compassion Isn’t Selfish

What do you say to a friend that is struggling, failing or suffering? Most of us have great care and compassion when we encounter a loved one going through difficult times. We seek to listen, to comfort, to empathize and to help. We say things like, “I see how hard this is for you” or “You are doing the best that you can.” But what do you say to yourself when you are struggling? I am guessing it’s a bit different. You are not alone if you say something like “How could I be so stupid?” or “I am a disaster.

b6cb0e98eb69cb29df561dde9450e50f_XLOver the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching self-compassion, beginning each session with these two questions. It seems each group enjoys sharing their insights on how to support a friend. And then I offer the second question. Suddenly, body language shifts. Perhaps an audible “Uh-oh!” is declared as we together recognize that perhaps we need to flip the Golden Rule on its head. For all the care and compassion we offer to others, we usually reserve a healthy dose of judgment and criticism for ourselves. Do unto ourselves as we would do unto others. At least when it comes to compassion.


Kristin Neff wrote the book on Self-Compassion. She attributes much of the self-flagellation we impose to cultural norms that suggest self-criticism is a great motivator. As if when we give ourself compassion, we’ll just give ourselves a free pass for every one of our transgressions and end up lazy and broke. Research suggests that the opposite is true and I agree based on my experience. When we practice self-compassion, we snap out of the illusion of perfectionism and are more willing to take risks. More willing to try knowing that we might fail and failing is okay. Neff identifies three components to self-compassion: Self-Kindness, Shared Experience and Mindfulness. Check it out below,

The next time you catch your self-critic beating up on you, try the Self-Compassion Break by Kristin Neff. Simply come to stillness and silently repeat the following phrases,

  • This is a moment of suffering.
  • Suffering is part of the human condition.
  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.
  • May I give myself the compassion I need right now.

I’ve provided some additional writings, talks and guided practices that will support you on your self-compassionate journey,

The Art Of Self-Compassion, A Personal Reflection

The Art of Self-Compassion, Meeting The Critic

An Invitation To Retreat Into Your Experience

To be honest, my daily mindfulness practice isn’t always so mindful. Well, the actual meditation may be but I usually find myself rushing to the cushion and then hustling off immediately afterwards. I have a tendency to jam meditation into the busiest part of my day as if it was just another thing on my “to do” list. And that’s ok. Meditation is as much about what you’re not doing as what you are doing. It is nothing more than practice for the “real work” of life in the world. I certainly recognize that pausing, if only for a moment, is better than the alternative. As I speed through my day, I start to miss a beautiful image or a meaningful conversation.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 8.47.33 AMWhich is why the invitation for extended practice is so valuable. By creating space and time to slowly arrive at the beginning and gently transition at the end, I offer myself care and attention. Retreats, such as A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life give you time to listen to the still, small voice that lives inside each of us but is often drowned out by the cacophony of voices our external world foists upon us. I use this time to set intentions, ask meaningful questions, and connect with others on our mindful journeys. I find myself settling into practice and letting go in a natural, organic way that doesn’t take energy, just intention.

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Listen To Your Heart by YuYu

That’s not to say that retreat are easy. Inevitably, I find a point on retreat where I’ve decided it is time to escape. Once you are just with yourself, you finally listen to what your heart really needs. And it can be overwhelming. This is also an invitation to sit with what I am experiencing. To feel my feelings as I am feeling them. And eventually, it passes. The freedom at this moment is hard to describe.

Join us on Sunday, April 28 from 9am to noon or 4pm at Bryn Mawr College. Our morning session includes teachings, discussions and guided meditations on simplicity, patience, understanding, and compassion. Then, stay with us for an afternoon of bringing these teachings into practice through sensory activities, movement, partner work and real-life application. We hope to see you there!