The Power of a Question

excitedWhat are you most excited about in your life right now?  This is a question I often ask when I meet someone for the first time. It usually comes as a surprise. Most of us have well-practiced monologues for that first impression, “I work at such and such company” or “I have such and such people in my family.” I marvel at the change in body language and long pause that usually accompanies the response to “What are you most excited about?” Questions such as these invite a different kind of conversation.

Talking about students, the poet David Whyte has said, “If you construct a question that is beautiful, it is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.” Beautiful questions challenge us to shift out of the mindset of problem-solving, thinking, comparing and judging that characterizes most of our everyday experience. We often have a narrative of “how things are” that may have gone unquestioned for quite some time. We might find responding to such questions difficult because they remind us of what’s not quite right yet. But it also opens the possibility for growth, meaning and understanding.

A perfect example of how questions open our minds and hearts comes from StoryCorps, whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” You may have heard these stories on National Public Radio. Check out this list of list of wonderful questions for just about any questions that are sure to get right to the heart of the matter in almost any situation.


This winter, we have two great offerings that harness the power of questions to address challenges you are facing or build practices to support well-being. They include Mindful Problem Solving on Sunday, January 27 at 7pm and Meditation for Beginners, starting Thursday, February 21 in Devon. Register at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy.
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Here are just a few of the qualities that inquiry and questions can generate:

  • Reframing – Questions allow us look at our experience from a different angle. Approaching an issue with a different kind of question shifts our perception and our attitude.
  • Softening – They can bring a compassion, an appreciation and even a forgiveness for difficulty, confusion and uncertainty we face.
  • Opening – How many ways could I describe the situation? What are the new ways?
  • reframe-nlp-frameClarifying – What is really happening right now? Can I be with it? What is important to me? What will I do next?
  • Identifying habit patterns that aren’t supportive of wholehearted living, happiness and resilience. We begin to recognize our reactivity and how it may harm us.
  • Connection with our passion, our values, and our heart to create purpose and meaning.

At its heart, the practice of mindfulness asks two questions, “What is happening?” and “Can I be with it?” These two questions represent the two wings of the metaphorical bird. Wisdom to see clearly with awareness and compassion to nonjudgmentally be with our experience. In a sense, these are the questions that characterize the experience of mindfulness. As we practice mindfulness, we step out of the story we’ve created in our minds and into the genuine experience of being alive, with its joy, its sorrow, its uncertainty, its faith.


If you can’t make our Mindful Problem Solving workshop on January 27, I welcome you to explore questions further by listening to Inquiry as Mindfulness Practice here or via iTunesSoundcloud or Stitcher.

This episode includes a meditative inquiry practice called The Five Problem Solving Questions which I think you’ll enjoy experimenting with. You also might enjoy a visit to jonathanfoust.com or focusing.com to learn more about the tools of meditative inquiry.

Seeking Progress, Not Perfection

Last year, a foolish monk;
This year, no change!
-Ryokan

Last winter, I shared 10 Questions To Ask Yourself In 2018. These questions included “How do I want to feel?” and ” How can I simplify this?” One of the most powerful tools I’ve practiced to keep these questions on the top of my mind is Atomic Habits. Atomic Habits are those small, simple, everyday habits, that form the basis for a life well-lived. It may be quietly enjoying a cup of tea each morning or greeting everyone you meet with a smile.

We all know the lifespan of a New Year’s Resolution averages a week or two. Oftentimes, this is because they are difficult to sustain because they are time consuming and so different from what we have been doing. But when we start small and build systems instead of focusing on a singular goal, change happens naturally. In the video below, James Clear describes How to Get 1% Better Every Day,

In 2019, I’ve been thinking about three systems. A system for learning, a system for connecting and a system for practicing. And I’m going to start small. Learning begins with reading 5 minutes of Lojong trainings each day. Connecting begins with reaching out to one old friend each week. Practicing begins with meditating for 15 minutes every day in the morning (I already do this and more but occasionally skip a day). By starting small,  I’ll have space to grow and expand my habits based on the early results without being encumbered by a goal that is too specific.iStock-513882695-Systems.jpgWorking on your own new (and old) habits? We are proud of the resources we have created based on our fall class on Positive Habit Change. Check out the links below to learn and grow with us:

Identifying Habit Patterns Article
Accountability & Reminders Recorded Talk Article
Patience & Self-Compassion Recorded Talk Article
Sustainable Change Recorded Talk Article

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Click here for eight great guided meditations and abbreviated talks. And be sure to check out Mindful Problem Solving, a workshop I am offering on Sunday, January 27 at 7PM. Register today to build another simple tool for seeking progress, not perfection.

In the Midst of Everything

Picture1It is not unusual for a new student to enter the practice of meditation with a goal to empty the busy mind and enter a state of bliss and relaxation. While this may be a delightful side effect to mindful living, it is sure to be a temporary state. Instead, mindfulness and meditation help set favorable conditions for pleasant thoughts, sensations and emotions to arise while building the resilience to experience whatever is happening in every moment. As my teacher, Jonathan Foust says, “Meditation will make you feel better.” It will make you feel anger better. Frustration better. Doubt better. Jealousy better. And so on.

In A Lamp in the Darkness, Jack Kornfield writes,

If you can sit quietly after difficult news;
if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;
if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
If you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink of a pill;
if you can always find content just where you are;

you are probably a dog.

When we fight and fix and control, we become tight and closed to possibility. And something will go wrong anyway. We become, as a Tibetan teacher says, a bundle of tense muscles, defending our existence. Perhaps instead of trying to get everything right with balance and poise, our challenge is this,

If the world will not go away then the great discipline seems to be the ability to make an identity that can live in the midst of everything without feeling beset.” – David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

The use of an anchor in mindfulness practice allows us to work with the uncertainty of not being able to control our experience. We can focus on our breath for one or two cycles and then we become distracted. It is failure practice.

How we respond to our situation, both in meditation and in life, is the one true thing we can control. So we gently guide our attention back to the anchor and begin again, dwelling in the midst of everything.


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November is a busy month at Center For Self-Care including Mindful Dads Meeting (11/14), Men Sitting By A Fire (11/15) and Mindful Habit Change (11/20). Join us to practice together.

The Curiosity Habit, Part 1

The Habit-Building Industry is booming. Everywhere you look there are books, magazine articles, videos and apps to support you in making or breaking habits. But it turns out, I’ve got more bad habits than ever! I suspect I’m not the only one. How did this happen? It may be that every generation has its own “dos and dont’s” when it comes to habits. We are living in an age where we have more knowledge of the brain science behind habits and the consequences of our behavior than ever. But the tools to create dependency are more sophisticated than ever. Start with your cellphone. We essentially have a roulette wheel in our pockets. Will I get an important email? Will someone “like” my latest post? Is there news I need to know about? What am I missing out on?

UnknownAfter 30 years of drinking Mountain Dew every day, I’m excited that I haven’t had one for over one hundred days! I’ve tried to stop many times in the past but always relied on willpower as my habit change method. As I became more curious about this habit, I recognized the times, situations and emotions that had me reaching for that hit of sugar and caffeine regularly. This exploration allowed me to do more than just avoid Mountain Dew but instead build new habits that served me better. More in future posts . . .


Ready to make a change? Join us beginning Tuesday, September 18 from 7-8:15 pm at Tredyffrin Library, 582 Upper Gulph Road, Strafford, for Mindfulness & Meditation for Positive Habit Change. No cost to attend, no experience needed.

Learn to train your brain to break old habits and adopt new ones!

September 18: Identifying Habit Patterns
October 9: Accountability and Reminders
November 20: Patience and Self-Compassion
December 11: Sustainable Change

Examples of habits to be addressed include technology use, self-compassion & self-care, physical fitness, and procrastination.


I think you’ll enjoy the short video from researcher Judson Brewer below. Brewer proposes a four-step model to help break a bad habit:

  1. Notice the urge
  2. Get curious
  3. Feel the joy of letting go
  4. Repeat

Sound familiar? If you practice meditation and mindfulness, you already have a head start! These simple (but not easy) instructions are also the invitation to mindfulness. Our minds are impulsive. We will feel urges! The key is to catch oneself, investigate and start over if you need to.

Oftentimes, we think of habits related to nutrition, exercise, sleep and self-care. The model Brewer offers can also be applied to the workings of our own mind. You might even try this meditation, Seeing through the Habits of Mind from Adyashanti to begin your exploration.

 

 

The Tragedy of Speed, Part 2

Are you happy being busy or are you busy being happy? 

There really is nothing wrong with being busy. The key to positive busyness is introducing choice into your experience. With this choice, we give ourselves permission to have periods of work mixed with periods of rest and entertainment. With a mindful awareness of what is happening right now, busy-ness can be joyful, freeing or enlightening. But our culture’s focus on consumption and accomplishment can trick you into a habit of non-stop busyness that may not serve you. I wrote about this previously in The Tragedy of Speed, Part 1.

This month, Center For Self-Care is offering Ten Talks, short presentations on a topic that is accompanied by a Sunday evening online guided meditation. Simply visit www.center4selfcare.com/meditate4selfcare to learn how to login on you computer or smartphone at 8:50pm EDT for our 9pm meditation. There are also instructions for dialing in via telephone.

I was fascinated by a recent exchange between Arianna Huffington and Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors. unknownResponding to Musk’s lament of working 120-hour workweeks and nearly living at his work, she offered an open letter urging him to bring the same scientific approach that creates innovation at his company to his own health and
wellbeing, specifically sleep. She wrote, “The science is clear. And what it tells us is that there’s simply no way you can make good decisions and achieve your world-changing ambitions while running on empty,” she wrote.” Sadly, Musk responded (around midnight), “You think this is an option. It is not.” There’s a huge cultural and capitalist reluctance to slow down. But we can bring mindfulness to it.


Grant yourself a moment of peace,
and you will understand
how foolishly you have scurried about.

Learn to be silent,
and you will notice that
you have talked too much.

Be kind,

and you will realize that
your judgment of others was too severe.

– Chinese Proverb

It’s Too Late

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.


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This month, Center For Self-Care is offering weekly 10-minute talks, including the one above. Each talk is paired with our regular Meditate4SelfCare practice on Sundays at 9pm. Simply visit www.center4selfcare.com/meditate4selfcare to learn how to join us for this free offering by computer or phone.

We offer numerous programs which can be found at www.center4selfcare.com/coming-events. Check them out!


Golden_buddha.jpgIn 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.

Secure Your Own Mask First

“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.

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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.”

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can visit me at www.center4selfcare.comwww.center4selfcare.com.

*For those of you on Android or other non-Apple platforms, you can find my podcast on Stitcher and Soundcloud.
Originally published May 2016 on yourminfulcoachblog.wordpress.com.

Going Home

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?).

LoveEverything.jpgStarting 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 Tragedy of Speed, Part 1

6087023127_3e0d61c40a_b.jpgThe 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.


Pic-6-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 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.”

clock.jpgBut 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.

republished from our Your Mindful Coach blog, May 24, 2018

 

The Humor in a Practice, Part 1

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 LeggeroJoe 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.