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.

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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.

 

 

Jump in to June

June is one of my favorite months. It brings transition, not only in the seasons, but in my work as a teacher and a parent. I found last summer that our mindfulness work actually picked up, not because our program participants were less busy, but because the people around them were less busy which seemingly gave them permission to slow down as well.

And so it goes. At the same time, routines change and may create convenient excuses to drop your self-care routine as well. So it is a good time to recommit and recenter.

Each day in June, Center for Self-Care will be offering Questions for a Mindful Journey. Like and follow us on Facebook to view and respond to the day’s question. We also have a limited number of slots for a private email group working with the same questions.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 7.15.54 PMTo the left, you’ll see our summer offerings. You’ll see numerous opportunities to practice and join in fellowship, both in person and online.

Programs for Everyone

Meditate4SelfCare is a twice-weekly, free online meditation. Sundays at 9pm and Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

Programs for Men

Mindful Dads Meeting is a monthly drop-in group. Meditation instruction is provided along with time to write and reflect.

Men Sitting By A Fire is a monthly drop-in gathering where participants share stories on a different theme each time.

Mindful Men Meeting (email for details) is a monthly membership group that begins with practice followed by discussion of a topic such as busyness, fear, and joy.

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.

 

What Happens When You Can’t Figure It Out?

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?

field.jpgWith mindful practice, we sit with the emotions of uncertainty and doubt. We can open ourselves to patient waiting and letting go of outcomes. We can ask the questions differently – “Isn’t it interesting that I don’t know what to do next? What do I really need in this moment?

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:


Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 9.20.19 PMPlease 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.

We also meet in person for Mindful Dads Meeting this Wednesday, April 11 at 8pm and every 2nd Wednesday of the month. Click here to sign up and join us.

 

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”.

This Lousy World. And Being With What Is.

To give a cow a large spacious meadow is the best way to control him.” – Suzuki Roshi

I sat in practice. The feeling arose. Somewhere between uncertainty and overwhelm. This feeling didn’t bring a lot of content with it. Somewhat ominous but not quite imminent. Like something lurking in the distance while I rested comfortably behind the reinforced walls of a fortress in my mind.

Sometimes it feels like I’m just a bag of bones meant to carry around this overactive thinking machine of mine. My friend Jim describes it as a “mind tornado”. Rumination, reflection, anticipation and regret. What to do?

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I sat with it. It became a form in my mind, a jagged red shape, not quite circular, rhythmically heaving. It held heat and energy. But it wasn’t me. I imagined myself pulling up a chair next to this feeling. Not quite attending to it, but observing it. “What is this?” I asked. No answer was forthcoming. But I didn’t sense it needed an answer. It just needed to be seen.

From the silence emerged a response, “You don’t know. And that’s OK.” The shape retreated, the mind became still. I found myself at peace, if only for a moment. Psychologist, author and Holocaust-survivor Victor Frankl wrote about the importance of creating space for this peace. This space opens us to choice and possibility. Like the cow in Suzuki Roshi’s quote, making room for our experience allows us to flow more freely through life.

There’s an awful lot going on. Some local, some universal, most repeating and some truly unique. No wonder Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering thome on mindfulness is entitled, Full Catastrophe Living. Our human instinct for survival drives us to make sense of it all and eliminate threats (perhaps foreclosing risk-taking and exploration). But we can find a stillness, if only for a moment. Sitting with our experience. Taking a breath. Being present.

The practice below begins with instructions for quieting and softening the body. An invitation to explore the present experience is offered and a question is asked. Try it out for yourself!


Make some time for yourself to learn and practice in the coming months. Join us for Mindful Tools For Stress Management for Men beginning February 21 or attend our co-ed full-day retreat, Connection and Reflection on Sunday, April 8. Enter the promotional code “EARLY” for a 10% discount.

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Hanging Out In The Space

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.

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 9.35.32 AMThis 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.

letting-go-2.jpgIt 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.”


Make some time for yourself to learn and practice in the coming months. Join us for our co-ed full-day retreat, Connection and Reflection on Sunday, April 8.

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being-doing.jpgParry 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?

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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:

  • Do less better
  • Enjoy the moment
  • A little conflict isn’t such a bad thing
  • Slow down and think

Practice along with the recording below or click here for a written description.

10 Questions To Ask Yourself In 2018

It came to me one day in meditation. I was struggling to put the finishing touches on a lesson introducing mindfulness to a seventh graders. It had to be perfect. I had to be whole, complete. And then a response arose in my mind, “Teach the questions, not the answers.” Speaking of teachers, the poet David Whyte writes, “If you construct a question that is beautiful, it is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.” Questions that make us stop and help clarify our dreams, our intentions and our next acts. Author Robert Bly wrote, “Teachers help students remember who they are” by uncovering what is already inside of them and reintroducing them to their passions, their motivations and their wildest dreams.

The mindful questions below don’t have a right answer. They may not even have an answer at all. But they are virtually guaranteed to make the reader stop, reflect and consider – the foundations of mindfulness. They remind us that though we may not be able to control our circumstances or current conditions, we always have a choice. A choice to respond thoughtfully and intentionally instead of react habitually to whatever comes our way. This approach is a radical act of self-care and self-compassion in a culture conditioning us for immediate gratification and multi-tasking.

How do I want to feel?

Well, how do I want to feel? I rarely ask myself this question because I’m too busy trying to get things done! But when I step back and honor my emotions, I often recognize that what I’m doing isn’t necessary and is actually causing me stress. Much of our goal-setting and planning is very accomplishment-oriented. What if instead, we approached it from an emotion orientation?

What is between me and feeling free (happy, at peace, etc.)?

overwhelmed-kid.jpgWhere shall I start? Overwhelm, responsibility, uncertainty, doubt, fear, anger, frustration, letting go, letting be. Are any of these familiar to you? What I notice is that all of them are inside my head. I may have a frustrating relationship or nagging injury, but it is my minds response to them that holds me back. Simply acknowledging them can create a softening.

What is not between me and feeling free (happy, at peace, etc.)?

Use these responses as a foundation on which to come closer to that feeling of freedom. My passion, my love, my resources and my relationships are not getting in the way of feeling free. What if I offered this love and passion to the part of me that is hurt, scared or doubtful? [salzberg]

What am I doing?
Is it right?
What will I do next?

71ywcxkvc5L._AC_UL320_SR230,320_These three questions were introduced to me by Gretchen Schroeder. I have found them helpful in nearly every situation where I find myself carried away, stressed out or reactive. Yesterday, for example, I had returned from a wonderful vacation to a snowstorm. I was a grouchy pill all day long. Several times throughout the day I stopped and reflected on these questions. And usually I just kept on doing what I was doing. But by 4 pm, I’d finally had enough of myself and decided that next I would try out a bit of Qi Gong (from the wonderful Lee Holden) and what do you know? I started feeling better!

I use these questions when I’m being overbearing with friends or family. They are flexible. Instead of telling me, “stop this right away!” they force me to choose my words and actions. So when the answer to “Is it right?” is “no” over and over again, I eventually choose a course of action that gets me back on the right track. It can be both humbling and humiliating to recognize that I am the problem. But this recognition can be a tool to softening as well.

Does it have heart?

Overwhelmed-todays-to-do-list.jpgWe all have too much to do. Deciding what to next can be so difficult that we often distract ourselves and defer taking the first step on our most important dreams. When my to-do list is 100 things long, I start going through and crossing off anything that doesn’t have heart? This may mean that the home improvements get deferred or I’m eating a pile of wheat thins for dinner, but it helps me reset my compass back to what is most important.

How can I simplify this?

I admit, eight questions in probably isn’t the best place to suggest making things simpler. Its just a question. But as with many of these other questions, it creates a pause where habit can be replaced by wise judgment.

Who will support me on my path?

Maybe it is a running partner or colleague on a project. Maybe it is a friend who knows you inside and out. But resilience is about more than just pushing through obstacles. It is about asking for help and taking care of yourself.

Will it matter when I’m gone?

No? Then don’t do it! This one can yield surprising answers that go beyond the sentimentality of an existential question. It may be that taking on the new job that will take you away from your family for a time may matter because of the security it provides them. Or it may be that this question reorients your expectations and intentions. 


Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 9.35.32 AMThere are plenty more questions that we explored in our December retreat, Asking The Beautiful Questions. At Center For Self-Care, we love to support you on your own path of self-discovery. See below for our upcoming programs.

Wednesday, January 10Mindful Dads Meeting

Five Wednesdays beginning February 21Mindful Tools For Stress Management for Men

Sunday, April 8Full Day Mindfulness Retreat (co-ed)