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

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.

What To Do With A Busy Mind

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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.

 

 

Meditation for Beginners: Joy

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

In the Buddhist tradition, there are four immeasurable qualities, four qualities of the awakened heart. They include compassion, lovingkindness, equanimity and joy. This post summarizes our final workshop this winter.

I think of myself as a compassion and kindness person, but joy, I’m not so sure it is for me. I feel happy and content, but joy feels a bit too active (and uncontrollable) for me. But joy can serve as both the input and the output of our practice as Thich Nhat Hanh describes above. I don’t have to feel it in any particular moment, but I’m always able to explore it.

As I prepared this week’s session, I gave myself time to intentionally practice joy. Joy is close cousins with gratitude so it seemed appropriate for the season. Beginning with gratitude can be an on-ramp to joy as we recognize the good things in our lives and the circumstances and people that brought them about. But it is important to specify what we mean by joy. The Pali/Sanskrit word Muditā means a certain kind of joy, an Appreciative or Empathetic Joy. One of my favorite meditations on joy comes from Brian Dean Williams and can be heard below.

Williams offers four phrases to silently repeat as we visualize someone we know who is doing really well right now:

May 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. 

While meditating on joy can help settle the mind and make one feel more connected and happy, the most exciting quality to me is these 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. And there are many gates to joy including integrity, generosity, gratitude, trust, mindfulness and connection.

I’ve been practicing with an image of my son recently, who is doing really well. As I work through the practice, repeating phrases like “May you continue to create the conditions for peace and freedom in your life,” I open up a bit. I say to myself, “Wait, things are going pretty well for you as well.” Its okay to be joyful now.

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. This joy can be abundant and boundless, able to be experienced by others without limiting its effect. Jack Kornfield has a wonderful talk that you can enjoy below,


Another nourishing practice is called coherent breathing. Turns out, they’ve even patented it (how can one patent breathing?) In this practice, you balance the rhythm of breathing, allow the breath to easily flow from inhale to exhale. At its simplest, you can simply count to 5 or 6 during each in breath and begin again, counting to 5 or 6 on the out breath. This practice can take us out of our reactive, fight or flight mode, by regulating the body and calming our emotions. Try it with this great guided practice from Jonathan Foust.



A Mindful Pause:
Finding Refuge And Peace In A Busy Life
at Bryn Mawr College

Sunday, April 28
Bryn Mawr College
Half-Day and Full-Day retreat options
Join us for our for a retreat suitable for both first-time and longtime meditators. In our morning sessions, we will explore simplicity, patience, gratitude and joy with guided meditations, teachings and discussion. Then stay with us in the afternoon as we bring these teachings into practice through sensory activities, movement, partner work and real-life application.

Register here

Showing Up for Our Lives

“One life on this earth is all that we get, whether it is enough or not enough, and the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.”

-Frederick Buechner

How do we truly show up for our lives? Show up for ourselves? Show up for each other? Show up for our kids?

How do we make the most of our time while we are here? Having a meaningful life, being present and living life to the fullest moment to moment, right here-right now? Feeling connection with what’s here-ourselves and each other.

I believe the first step is, we have to show up for ourselves, take care of ourselves. If we do this, we are more able to show up and be present for each other.

Here’s the other part, showing up can be difficult. Being present can be difficult. There are things that get in the way and prevent us from being right here. They get in the way of our ability to show up, care for ourselves, and each other.

Things like stress, worry, fear, shame, judgment, insecurity, doubt, pain, and struggle. The constant to do list, being pulled in a million different directions-all things we have to get done in this hour, this day. Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and worried my thoughts of judgment can take over. Here are a few: I am not good enough; I can’t handle this; I am the only one going through this. Let’s not forget about the blame, the finger pointing, or the complaining about others.

And then when this all takes over, there can be a resisting, when things don’t feel good, uncomfortable, or unpleasant. Things like avoidance, pushing away, and ignoring can happen. Striving and grasping can also appear. If only I had this or this was this way or I liked that way better. Sometimes I want to run as away from it as possible or hide for that matter.

What I realized is that this gets exhausting. When this happens, I disconnect from what is right here, myself and the people around me because I am stuck in my head.

So perhaps a shift. Instead of pushing away or being alone. All of this is what makes us human. We are all imperfectly human. This is when we need each other most, to offer care to ourselves and each other.

How can we start our day in a way where we welcome everything and show up for our lives?

Each morning we wake up what are we paying attention to? There are many mornings I wake up and I am focused on what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. The what ifs and coulda shouldas take over, living in the past and the future. I would be happier if this happened or it was still this way or if only these things were occurring.

These things take me away from what is right here in front of me. I am swept away from this present moment. The moment I notice that this is happening it is an opportunity for me to pause and acknowledge what is here. This act of paying attention is a choice. We can choose what we pay attention to and how we pay attention to it each and every day.

Once I have acknowledged and allowed myself to feel and take in my experience, I can make a choice to begin my day with gratitude, appreciation, joy, and well-being. There are so many wonderful things going on around us. It can be an essential part of our day to ask ourselves this questions, what is most important and matters most? We can then take as much time as we have an need to pause, reflect, and notice what arises when we ask ourselves this important questions. This isn’t about forcing feelings it is a chance for awareness and perspective.

At some point, each of us has been sent the message to enjoy the simple things in life. When I used to hear this I would brush it off and say to myself this is cheesy or too cliché. As I began to ask myself-what is most important and matters most, I realized that it is the simple things that are most meaningful and precious. I have so much to be grateful for and appreciate.

So, I woke up today. I was able to stand on my own two feet. I was breathing. I was able to take a hot shower and put clothes on my back. I kissed my wife goodbye and saw my kids sleeping safely in their beds. I make a cup of coffee and this was just the first thirty minutes of my day.

What a wonderful life I have. We can have it all, the pain, the joy, the love, and the fear. Each morning we can make a choice of how we go into our day, how we want be with ourselves and the people in our lives. We can all make a choice of how we want to live our lives. When we take care of ourselves, we are showing up for our lives, and each other.

 

 

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 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.

 

The Art of Failure

33878e1afdd5a25109343511d8edea37Perhaps 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:

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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.

In Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, Pema Chödron offers an intention to “get good at holding the rawness of vulnerability, welcoming the unwelcome.” She relates the story of her first interview with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala. Life, he says,

41LjcNAdZyL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_“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.

 

How To Be Angry

My teacher Jonathan Foust likes to say that meditation will make you feel better. It will make you feel sadness better, it will make you feel frustration better, and it will make you feel anger better. The practice of mindfulness and meditation brings us to a state where we can feel what we are feeling when we are feeling it. And that gives us a choice. What will I do next? It offers the glimmer of possibility to respond thoughtfully instead of react habitually. But we must be quite gentle as these mind states arise.


You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – Undetermined

Thich Nhat Hanh offers this simple teaching for when you are angry:

Do Nothing

Say Nothing

Breathe

It may seem these phrases are passive. Perhaps there are situations where immediate responses (or withdrawal) are necessary, but I have found this advice to be near-perfect in its ability to bring me back to myself and the present moment. It is a radical act of self- (and other) care and compassion.

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Image from Men For Change, The Online Healthy Relationships Project, 1998 

Anger is what is called a “secondary emotion.” Most often, our anger masks an underlying primary emotion that we don’t want to feel. Things like sadness, jealousy, or fear elicit a reaction that triggers the secondary emotion such as anger. And sometimes related action like lashing out, arguing, or withdrawing.

I can recall a car ride on a cold winter day with my family. For some reason, I was frustrated and angry. My guess is that there was some distance between how things were in my life and how I wanted them to be. With every utterance from my wife and boys, I wanted to react, to criticize and diminish. But instead, I silently repeated these phrases, “Do Nothing. Say Nothing. Breathe.” After about 45 minutes, I felt a softening, and was able to reengage and share in my family’s joy. Later that evening, my wife said something along the lines of, “it really seemed you were having a tough time today.” This sympathy was enlivening and probably wouldn’t have come had I acted on the anger that was arising earlier that night.

Importantly, this practice doesn’t eliminate anger. Anger and all emotions are valuable information that our body, heart and mind give us to alert us to something meaningful, important or scary. When we try to shove them down or freeze them out, they’ll only find a way back into our experience. If instead, we can be with these emotions, witnessing but not becoming these emotions, we take a path of peace and understanding. The practice below works with this concept of witnessing:

What’s your experience with anger? Share your comments below. We’ll continue this discussion in upcoming weeks, exploring ways to communicate to those we love that we need a little space so it doesn’t seem like we are disconnecting or isolating ourselves.


Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 5.41.02 PM.pngMindful Dads Meeting resumes on Wednesday, March 14 and we’d love you to join us. Additionally, please consider Connection and Reflection: A Full-Day Mindfulness Retreat on Sunday, April 8. Readers of this blog receive a 10% discount by entering the promo code “EARLY”.