Meditation For Beginners: Compassion

This winter, Center For Self-Care, in conjunction with Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, offers four beginner’s meditation workshops in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” The title recognizes the practice of mindfulness and meditation as a process. There is no sudden awakening or enlightenment. Instead, by gently tending the garden of our mind and heart, we set an intention that inclines us toward kindness and compassion. It just takes regular practice. We’d love you to join us. But if you can’t, you can find resources and recordings to try this out yourself at home.

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.

-from The Tao of Wealth

We spend so much of our days analyzing, judging and comparing. This important function kept our ancestors alive 20,000 years ago when they were being chased by wild animals. It also serves a critical role in advances in the field of science, technology and medicine. But sometimes, a different state of mind is called for. A state where we use our sense to arrive in the present moment. That’s what meditation and mindfulness can offer.

Catch Yourself

Be Gentle

Begin Again

Try the focused breathing practice below to get a sense of it. Just like training a puppy, our task is to pause, reset and begin again.

Just as we go to the gym to build physical strength, we practice in meditation to build mental strength. And it ain’t easy. It’s basically “failing practice,” right? We intentionally sit and allow ourselves to become distracted so that we can practice returning. So it will require one more thing: compassion. Without compassion, we may turn this work into a grim duty, a mechanical act that mimics all the other things we are trying to perfect about our life despite the utter impossibility of arriving at that state.

We worked with a traditional compassion practice that you can try out yourself. In this practice, we combine an image, a wish and repeated phrases to soften and open our heart to a deep compassion for ourselves and others. As we repeat these phrases silently, we slowly expand the circle of our care to include others, even all beings.

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Join us on Thursday, February 28 at 6:30pm for our next session of Meditation for Beginners, Cultivating the Heart. Our focus with be Lovingkindness.

Want more? Register today for A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life on Sunday, April 28 at Bryn Mawr College. Choose from a morning or full-day option. This offering is by donation and is suitable to all levels of experience including brand-new beginners.

The recording below is the full workshop from a previous Meditation for Beginners class,

Let The Breath Come To You

The Buddha solved the Buddha’s problem, now solve yours.” – Sharon Salzberg

From time to time, my meditation practice gets bumpy. What usually works stops working as thoughts and emotions invade and I find myself fighting, trying to eliminate these distractions. In times like these, sometimes the best I can do is just put my body there. My instinct is to try harder, read more or complicate my technique. Even focused breathing is an adventure in hold off an inevitable invasion. That’s more of a battle than a meditation. Fortunately, meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has a different solution, let the breath come to you. This concept is somewhat alien to me, a problem-solver, a fixer, a controller. But it has a way of carving out space and inviting stillness to my experience. As one of our group participants declared, it is a way “to allow the moment to have its way with me.” Sharon has a wonderful way of introducing meditation in the podcast episode below,

As Sharon says in the opening to the talk, learning to meditate by reading about it is, “like trying to scratch an itch through your shoe.” So practice is critical. In the guided meditation below, the listener is taken through the process of arriving in space, sensing the body, becoming aware of the breathing body and letting the breath come to you. Enjoy!

Would you like to practice with others? Then join C4SC for Meditation for Beginners, starting Thursday, February 21 in Devon. Register at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy.

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Just Put Your Body There

download (2)I just can’t do it. I just can’t meditate today. Or can I? My typical meditation practice involves bringing my attention to the sensation of breathing in my body. I’m constantly distracted and my task is to come back to the breath over and over again. Some days, I really, really don’t want to do it. Who would? Time passes and before I know it, it is nearly time for bed. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember this advice,

Just Put Your Body There

All the books, magazine articles and television profiles of mindfulness and meditation are a bit too prescriptive. They often suggest a “right” way to practice, either in a particular tradition, in a particular position or for a particular time. There is a misperception that the point of meditation is to relax, empty the mind, come to bliss. But that isn’t it at all.

Most of what we “do” in meditation will be non-doing! We aren’t playing with our phone, crossing things off our to-do list, or driving around while doing several other things at the same time. We may have given ourselves lots of process steps to arrive at a state of awareness and attention, but if we never get to the seat, what does it matter? Somedays won’t call for the deepest practice but instead one that keeps a routine, however clumsy.

Fortunately, these difficult days don’t happen too often for me. I have found “Just Put Your Body There” to be helpful when my normal meditation practice just isn’t happening. Instead of repeatedly returning my attention to my breath, I just let things flow as they are. This can be torturous but it helps me identify what is really happening. What’s bothering me. What’s keeping me from my intention to practice.

The two guided meditations below don’t ask much of you as a meditator. You might try them out when you don’t want to meditate but feel like you should,


This winter, join C4SC for Meditation for Beginners, starting Thursday, February 21 in Devon. Register at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy.

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg often urges her student to “just put your body there.” Her simple practices offer an on-ramp to a deeper practice. Each February, she offers a 28-Day Meditation Challenge that you can join for free and practice with a large community of aspiring practitioners. Its great!
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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.

 

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.