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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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.

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.

 

 

Taking Care of Ourselves

HC-picture-2There are often times I think about why am I not taking better care of myself or why am I not taking care of myself. I need to eat better, exercise more, meditate more, drink less, worry less, etc. Often this comes with self-criticism self-doubt, or judgment. When I go in this direction I don’t always have the answers or am able to change my ways or solve the problem. It’s hard to make the time. I feel pulled in a million different directions, spread thin, exhausted, and sometimes get stuck. What I do know is that when I make my care a priority, something that I need and deserve, it makes a huge difference for my well-being and the well-being of the people around me. When it comes to my care it is important for me to take the time and stop and pause, to ask questions of myself to connect or reconnect with what is most important to me and my care.

What do I need for my care?

What is between or in the way of me taking care of myself?

What do I notice when I care for myself or don’t care for myself?

By pausing and taking the time to go inward and reflect, it might give us what we need, uncover something, open our hearts and minds, it might just be the reminder or information we need to care for ourselves. I believe our care is important and deserved in whatever way works best for each of us. We can start now. We can start again and again and again. We can come back to ourselves and reconnect, making the time to be present and listen to what we need and offer ourselves care and support.


Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 9.20.19 PMCenter For Self-Care offers numerous opportunities to practice self-care with in-person and online communities. Register and participate with us today!

Visit our Podcast, YouTube Channel, and Facebook Page for more.

Are you curious about Mindfulness Meditation? Mindfulness has been defined as a way of paying attention, fully and with interest, to what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.  Mindfulness involves the practice of being aware of the present-moment experience without being preoccupied by stressors and distractions. Do you want to take time for your care and connect with others? Josh Gansky will lead us on an exploration of ways to better navigate through our busy and stress-filled lives. Self-care is at the heart of everything we do; the way we feel, think, and act.  When we care for ourselves, we can be at our best.  We can actively make our lives and other people’s lives better. Drop in anytime for these weekly sessions which include guided Mindfulness practices and discussion in a supportive group setting. Develop greater connection, inner calmness, and awareness, allowing you to be more present in your life. This class is Appropriate for all levels. Please join us to take a pause, connect, reflect, and make time for your care.
Location:
Upper Merion Community Center
431 West Valley Forge Road
King of Prussia, PA 19406
610-265-1071