Having just returned from our fall men’s meditation retreat, Getting Unstuck, I am inspired by the diligence, wisdom and compassion of this year’s participants. They made the teachings come alive by applying them to their own experiences. Over the coming days, I thought I’d share some of my “favorite things” from the retreat.
We used energizing movement to wake us up each morning before the crack of dawn. I use this “go to” movement exercise from Jonathan Foust almost every day before meditation.
We even made our own movement tribute video but I’m not exposing the video on an unsuspecting public,
Qi Kong instructor Lee Holden has some amazing courses and a handful of free resources that we brought to the weekend,
Making It RAIN
We brought the rain so hard, it turned in to snow and ice!
Tara Brach has popularized the practice of RAIN – Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nourish. This four-step model helps us work with challenges and difficulty, cultivating a resource state to integrate whatever we face into our lived experience.
Up next, a talk on the practice of clearing the space and identifying what is between you and feeling free/happy/good about yourself,
This year’s retreat included Movie Night for the first time. We watched the short documentary, Going Home, which features teacher Ram Dass as he confronts mortality and embraces the spirit of love. If you have Netflix, this is a must-watch.
Each fall, Center For Self-Care offers a men’s meditation retreat in the mountains near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. This year, we’ll gather November 22-24 to explore ancient and contemporary tools for opening the heart and breaking habits that no longer serve us. This retreat includes guided meditations, silent reflection, deep conversations and the great outdoors in the fellowship of other men. Participants will come away with new approaches to working with habit patterns and reaction styles while cultivating empathy and compassion for self and other.
The weekend takes place in Sweet Valley, PA, just two hours north of Philadelphia. The cost of the retreat includes meals, sleeping accommodations and all programming. Participants will be asked to perform a “yogi-job” which may include light meal preparation and clean-up.
So how does this all work?
Who: A dozen men of all experience levels who have an intention to explore how wholeheartedness can be cultivated through meditative practices. New participants should have attended at least one Center For Self Care event such as Simply Meditation (every Monday at 7:15pm in Devon). The retreat will be led by Marc Balcer.
When: Depart in carpools from Philadelphia-area around 5 pm on Friday, November 22. We will meet briefly on Friday evening. We will depart early Sunday afternoon at arrive in Philadelphia by 1:30 pm.
Where: The retreat will be held on a 30-acre property in Sweet Valley, PA, just down the street from Ricketts Glen State Park. Three homes provide a total of eight bedrooms.
Why: Each person comes to this practice with their own inspiration and motivation. What unites us is a sincere desire to be present for our experience and support others on this path. We are all very busy! This retreat will allow us to slow down and relax.
Registration: Pre-registration is required and can be completed here with payment by credit card, paypal, or check. The cost of the retreat is $300, which includes programming, meals and a place to sleep. A limited number of single, private rooms (shared bathroom) are available for an additional $75. Contact email@example.com if you’d like to attend but cost is an issue.
Your Guide: Marc Balcer has been trained in Mindful Self-Compassion and Mindfulness-Based Stress Management. He leads classes and workshops locally and has created offerings including Simply Meditation, Mindful Men Meeting and Men Sitting By A Fire.
“It’s not what you have, it’s who we have.” This quote by A.A. Milne has resonated with me since the start of the school year. It is a quote I come back to again and again. It is the people in our lives that matter most. To me this is what is most important. It’s easy to forget this as we get caught up in our busy lives, running from one thing to the next. At times not stopping much at all. Pause and check in, most importantly we have ourselves and we have people in our lives that love us and care about us. There always an opportunity to show we care and make time for the people that matter most in our lives.
I wanted to share an interview I did on the Warrior Dads Podcast in November. In this episode Jim Burdumy of Warrior Dads, speaks with me about Mindfulness, Self-Care, and the challenges and joys of being a Dad. I talk about my experiences of being dad, how Mindfulness has impacted his life, and the work Marc Balcer and I are doing to make a positive impact in the lives of people through the Center for Self-Care.
The 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.
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.”
But 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.
In our last gathering, we explored What Happens When You Can’t Figure Out The Answer? Human beings, and often men in particular, have a tendency to try to solve, fix, and resolve issues and challenges so they “go away.” We want to get it out of there. This is natural. Our natural instinct is to preserve our safety and our security. So we become doers, we become fixers. And these acts become our identity.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
– Wendell Barry
This post is the fifth in a series that offers teachings to support a mindful practice and lifestyle. They are based on gatherings of Mindful Dads Meeting but offer universal wisdom suitable for anyone.
So what happens when we can’t figure it out? We may worry that our identity is tarnished. We scramble. We blame. We argue. We withdraw. Sometimes we ask for help, but we have received thousands of cultural messages that asking for help represents weakness. Feelings of inadequacy and failure to live up to expectations arise. What to do?
And we can also bring self-care and self-compassion. We recognize that we aren’t the only ones who have ever experienced this. Enjoy the guided practice below that reminds us of our shared humanity and our ability for self-soothing:
Please join Center For Self-Care every Sunday at 9pm or Tuesday evening at 8:30pm for Meditate4SelfCare. Simply login through this link. Open to men and women.
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:
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.
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.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl
In our last gathering, we explored The Space Between How Things Are And How We Want Them To Be. There will always be this space, this grasping, this striving, that is part of our human experience. In fact, we spend most of our time dwelling in this space. Our efforts to close the gap are commendable but ultimately impossible. We simply can’t fix everything. Instead, when we change our relationship and response to the situations and issues in our lives, we open up to freedom and curiosity.
This post is the fourth in a series that offers teachings to support a mindful practice and lifestyle. They are based on gatherings of Mindful Dads Meeting but offer universal wisdom suitable for anyone. Please check out our upcoming stress management workshop for men.
Author Daanan Parry shared the beautiful Parable of the Trapeze in his book, Warriors of the Heart. Parry begins:
“Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.
Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.”
I can relate to Parry’s opening assumptions, recalling my time in investment management. My task was pattern recognition. If only I could find patterns that repeat over and over again in the companies I invested, I could eliminate unexpected events and work with ease and calm. I could arrive at work each day to a predictable flow that appeared to hold little risk. Except that it did. Everything changes. Everything is impermanent.
It can be helpful to explore what happens with our emotional states. We quickly realize how they come and go. Alone, they are fairly fluid. But when we add to them with thoughts and ruminations, they feel more solid. And we can use a mindful practice to honor and create space for this landscape of emotions. As Michael Stone declares in the guided meditation below, “If we create the conditions for a calm body, unstable or turbulent emotions have a place to settle and a place to exist . . . Use your practice to continually bring you into the sanity of this moment. Sometimes our enlightenment will ask us to love things that seem impossible to love, and that’s why we practice.”
Parry concludes his parable by suggesting “transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to ‘hang out’ in the transition between trapezes.” So the question moves from What should I do? to What should I be? Instead of focusing on the next action, we might instead focus on fostering positive emotional states to arrive at a sense of well-being, regardless of our circumstances.
As we make space in our experience, we might reflect on the question, How do I want to feel? In the practice below, you are asked to reflect on a situation or issue in your life that may be causing difficulty or suffering. Allow yourself to feel into this experience. What are the thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the body that arise as you visualize and recall this situation?
As you continue through the meditation, you may experience a shift or perhaps have some advice for yourself. For our group, some of the advice was:
So often we are taught to arm ourselves with cynicism and irony, to cut ourselves off, dismissing displays of kindness or generosity as phony or self-serving. It takes a lot to say, “I am going to conduct an experiment to look at things another way.”
My friend David Gerbstadt has been doing a lot of experimenting. David is a local artist who uses art to share his positive message and connect with people in the community. These messages include “You Are Loved,” “Never Give Up,” and “Be Kind.” David is also well-known for his commitment to art for everyone. The video below shows a project where he left his art throughout the community for people to enjoy and ultimately take home with them. How radical!
David’s generosity doesn’t have a specific expectation when he shares it. Instead, he follows his heart, trusting that a response will arise. I’m a huge fan and have started a club at The Shipley School to continue to spread this message of abundance and generosity. We aren’t all great artists but each of us has a gift that is renewable. It may be a smile or a kind gesture. Or it may be a human connection in a time of need.
Like David’s work as much as I do? Send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. He offers “$1 art by mail,” Be Kind buttons for $1 each and has a huge studio with paintings, found-object sculpture and much more.
At Center for Self-Care, we’ve begun with a primary focus on men and dads. When it comes to men and generosity, I’ll start with the bad news. A recent study by from The University of Zurich suggests that men’s brains respond more to selfishness than generosity. The opposite is true for women. In the study, participants were given a choice to keep a sum of money or share it with someone else. Participants were placed in an fMRI machine to monitor brain activity. What researchers found was that an area of the brain called the striatum showed increased activity in women when they shared the money and in men when they kept all of the money for themselves. The striatum is part of a human’s reward system, coordinating the release of dopamine, one of our “feel good” hormones. Men are literally rewarded with a release of soothing chemicals for selfish behavior. Strangely enough, when researchers gave participants a drug designed to suppress dopamine release, men and women switched roles, with the men becoming more generous!
The study was small and far from conclusive. Additionally, it is hard to say whether this observation is hard-wired or a learned behavior based on cultural norms and expectations. We are learning more about neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to learn based on our experience. When we are rewarded (both externally and internally) for selfishness, we tend to continue that behavior. There is a vast literature describing the differences in ways boys and girls are treated. Oftentimes, girls are rewarded for pro-social, generous actions. On the flipside, girls are more likely to be punished for selfishness while boys may be excused from consequences because “boys will be boys”.
Aside from consequences, unwritten social expectations can play a role as well Angela Saini, author of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story declares, “We know that girls and women are socially expected to behave in different ways from boys and men. We encourage girls to be kinder, gentler and more generous, because these are seen as female virtues. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that research like this shows that women tend to show a greater reward response to this kind of behaviour.”
Other research has suggested that women are more likely to be balanced in their generosity, appealing to fairness and equality. Men, on the other hand, may appeal more towards justice, leading them to be either “perfectly selfish” or “perfectly selfless” depending on the situation and benefits they may accrue from their response. Additionally, these researchers found that when generosity is expensive, or takes a lot of effort, women tend to be kinder while men may be kinder than women when the cost of generosity is low (small gestures). This is exciting news. It offers a window in to how to start with generosity. Returning to the concept of neuroplasticity, we do know that generosity can be practiced and learned. Experiment on your own or try out the suggestions in The Power of Generosity. Men can rewire their brains to emphasize selflessness over selfishness. And it is important to start small. As Mother Teresa explained, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
A lecturer walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
This post is the third in a series that offers teachings to support a mindful practice and lifestyle. They are based on gatherings of Mindful Dads Meeting but offer universal wisdom suitable for anyone.
Stress can be defined as the space between our expectations and our reality. Our instinct when we see this space is to try make it go away. Somehow fill in the space with overwork, micromanagement or distraction. It may be that we already feel the walls closing in around us or that there is a gaping chasm between us and feeling free. But in reality, this space is small. It is a space of hyper focus and hyper vigilance. Either/or thinking, doubt, judgment, insecurity, anxiety and worry. We have a great opportunity to nourish this unpleasant place by stopping, experiencing and allowing.
The first step is to notice. To check in with yourself as you become quiet. What is here in this moment and can I be with it? What is really here? You might try the following practice to arrive at this state:
The space between how things are and how we want them to me gets filled in with messages of doubt and self-criticism. Things like “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a bad parent/partner/child.” This wanting things to be different is a natural result of our mis(perceptions), expectations, preferences, perspectives, standards and assumptions. When we get stuck in this space, we can create disconnection from ourselves and others.
“when bad things happen to us, we tend to have three unfortunate reactions: self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption. Why do we react like this? I look at it this way, the instinctive response to danger – the stress response – consists of fight, flight or freeze. These three strategies help us survive physically, but when they are applied to our mental and emotional functioning, we get into trouble. When there’s no enemy to defend against, we turn on ourselves. “Fight” becomes self-criticism, “flight” becomes self-isolation, and “freeze” becomes self-absorption, getting locked into our own thoughts.”
There are several conclusions to be drawn from this passage. First, our habitual reactions are normal. Humans have evolved to escape physical threats. It wasn’t until the last several hundred years that our ability to tame and eliminate most physical threats made the stress response less adaptive. Second, by recognizing that we are in this mode, we give ourselves a choice to respond thoughtfully instead of react out of habit. When we pay attention to our stress and the habits, patterns and triggers that make up our responses, we open a space for a choice based on awareness. Most of our modern threats are emotional and psychological so this space is important.
Germer’s colleague, Kristin Neff writes, “We give ourselves compassion not to feel better, but because we feel bad.” This shift from cure to care allows our natural gentleness and compassion to emerge slowly. Self-compassion consists of three elements as described by Neff in the video below:
Self-Kindness – Providing yourself with the compassion and self-soothing you deserve
Common Humanity – The understanding that you are not alone in your suffering, that it is part of the human experience
Mindfulness – An awareness of what is actually happening in your lived experience.
“It is rewarding to find someone you like, but it is essential to like yourself. It is quickening to recognize that someone is a good and decent human being, but it is indispensable to view yourself as acceptable. It is a delight to discover people who are worthy of respect and admiration and love, but it is vital to believe yourself deserving of these things.” – Jo Coudert
We closed our evening with a self-compassion meditation based on Neff’s work that brings the three elements of self-compassion into focus. As we imagined a difficulty or challenge in our life, we offered the following wishes:
I am (struggling, suffering, stressed) right now and that is ok.
We all (struggle, suffer, feel stress).
May I be kind to myself. May I offer myself the compassion that I need.
Try it for yourself below and check out our upcoming events including Mindful Dads Meeting and our April co-ed full-day retreat.
Marc and I are passionate about self-compassion and its promise of self-care and kindness that then extends to all around you. Below is the most downloaded episode of our podcast followed by additional articles that you mind enjoy.