In Becoming Aware, Josh shared a quote from Ram Dass, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” As we practice mindfully, we move toward stillness, spaciousness and silence. It is here that we can listen fully. Listening deeply to the small, soft voice of our heart, we become aware of our deepest intentions. We listen to those we love and give ourselves room to choose a response with compassion and care.
This post is the second in a series that offers teachings to support a mindful practice and lifestyle. They are based on gatherings of Mindful Dads Meetings each month but offer universal wisdom suitable for anyone.
As we build community, we keep these guideposts and qualities in mind:
- Experiencing New Possibilities (Community)
- Discovering Embodiment (Back to the body)
- Cultivating Observation (Noticing/Aware of Inner Experience)
- Moving Toward Acceptance (Non-Judgment/We each have our own experience)
- Growing Compassion (Care)
Our evening began with a practice intended to bring our awareness to the present moment, the only moment that is truly available to us. In this practice, we begin by observing our breath. The breath serves as an anchor when we are distracted by a thought, an emotion or bodily sensation. Each time, returning to the sensation of our body expanding and contracting with each breath. We then move our awareness to the sensation of stillness in our body. First in our hands and allowing our awareness of this stillness to expand to include our arms, our legs and even our feet.
Allow by Danna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
Practice with us
Looking to learn and practice? Join us on the morning of Saturday, December 2nd for Big Questions for Mindful Living: A Half-Day Retreat for Men. Or drop-in for Mindful Men Meeting, the 2nd Wednesday of every month.
Mindfulness meditation literally trains our muscle of attention. Just as we go to the gym to strengthen our body, when we sit in meditation, we grow mentally stronger. Returning our attention over and over again to the anchor of our practice (breath, body, stillness, silence, etc). For me, the first months of mindfulness practice found me less reactive. When I had an urge or an impulse to argue, confront or withdraw, I could observe this with a kind heart, pause, and choose my response. Researchers in the field of neuroplasticity are discovering how one can build new neural connections that integrate our emotional brain or limbic system with our cortical, thinking brain. They even see it in brain scans that suggests the grey matter of our brain grows with intentional practice. This integration allows the prefrontal cortex, the higher level, rational, moral part of our brain to soothe an emotional system caught in fear, uncertainty or anger.
Our reactivity and negativity biases are no accident. We needed this system thousands of years ago when our greatest threats were physical. The human environment contained predators like tigers who weren’t up for debating the merits of eating us. So we needed a way to react immediately to stimulus so that we didn’t end up as lunch. Our “Fight or Flight” or parasympathetic nervous system, is engineered to divert resources away from our internal organs and our brain to our legs so that we can run. The amygdala triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline, priming the body for action. Which is great when you are being chased. But this system responds to our daily emotional and psychological threats in the same way – increasing our heart, breathing and perspiration rate, and turning off our digestive and immune system. No wonder our culture is riddled with irritable bowel syndrome and chronic colds!
There is just one thing that we can truly control in our fight or flight response, our breath! Taking a deep breath sends a signal to our body that we have time, we don’t need to react quickly out of habit. As we slow the breath, our sympathetic nervous system comes back online, bringing us to a state of “Rest and Digest“. It is in this state that the integration of our body gives us access to our faculties and control of our situation. We become aware of our emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations without judging them.
But in order to return to Rest and Digest, we must know that we are in a state of Fight or Flight. This first step, noticing or listening is paired with an allowing, an offering of compassion for whatever is happening right now. The cycle of our reactive habits is broken when we pair the wisdom of noticing with the compassion of allowing. We ask ourselves, “What is happening right now?” and “Can I be with it?” Marc shared the practice “I am aware . . . ” which group participants tried in pairs and reflected on in writing.
As we closed, one participant concluded that for him, now is the time for “less advice and more self-compassion.” It is a time for listening and seeing what arises. When we stop and return to the present moment, we give ourselves a chance. Not seeking perfection, but seeking progress. You might try the longer meditation below to cultivate a deep listening.
Excerpted from The Journey, by Mary Oliver
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
We’d love to hear from you! Please comment below to share your own insights or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage you to join us for our monthly Mindful Dads Meeting on the 2nd Wednesday of each month at the Woodlynde School from 8 to 10pm. Click here for details, including our December 13 meeting.