Getting Unstuck, A Men’s Retreat

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 marc@center4selfcare.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.

 

The Four Noble Truths: There Is Suffering

You have probably heard something of the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment and what led up to it*. Before he became the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama lived two very different lives, neither of which brought contentment or peace. He was born in to royalty and before long was prophesied to be either a great king or a great religious leader. His father, hoping to extend the “family business,” sheltered him from the drudgery and challenge of everyday life. He built walls around the castle and gave his son all of the luxuries of life. But the son was unhappy. He wanted to see outside the walls. So one night, his servant took him into the village. What he saw there shocked him. Imagine living 29 years and never seeing a sick person or even an old person! He saw these in spades in addition to the homeless and even dead bodies. Next week, I’ll continue the story into his life of austerity but suffice it to say, the experience in the village brought him insight to The First Noble Truth, There Is Suffering.

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By User:Sacca – Picture of a painting in a Laotian Temple, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=800455

 

There’s a way,” writes Jack Kornfield, “in which we all deeply long to do the work of the heart, but we forget, we get so busy, we might get caught. We forget to ask what needs attention.” I often find myself so caught up in commitments and obligations, that I forget to feel. So busy crossing things off my to-do list, I forget to notice and wonder if what I am doing aligns with my heart. This is the human condition. Our culture even encourages this because if I live in delusion and distraction, I will look for a fix. Tara Brach calls this “the trance of unworthiness,” which drives us to try the newest drug,  cosmetic or shiny new car in order to be happy. We push away our suffering, constructing walls both literal and figurative, to shelter us from the reality of illness (think hospitals) and old age (think nursing homes).

The First Noble Truth urges us to stop, if only for a moment, and not run away from unpleasant sensation. We all have our own stories or narratives for “how things are” or “how they should be,” but what does it really fell like to acknowledge and feel the uncertainty and what comes with it? Great wisdom can come from asking, “What is asking for my attention in this moment?”


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Join Center For Self-Care this and every Monday at 7:15pm at Balanced For Life Yoga in Devon, PA for Simply Meditation. This drop-in class includes a short teaching, a guided practice and time for discussion. A perfect way to support you as you apply the wisdom of meditation and mindfulness to your own life. Contact us or register online today.  September 2019 features an exploration of a new Noble Truth each week!


Insight Meditation is a form of practice that invites such a reflection through ancient but universal instructions. Jack Kornfield, who was my inspiration for the meditation below, describes this as the first task – to acknowledge and stand in the center of our experience, to “be here now.” The meditation below brings one in to the body, the mind and the heart, gently touching what needs attention or click here for a longer version with an introductory talk.

*Check out Jack’s Kornfield’s wonderful Meditation For Beginners audiobook for more on the integration of The Four Noble Truths into one’s life. For a great, brief description of the Buddha’s early life, check out The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.

 

 

 

What Are You Bringing with You?

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When we go into certain situations, interact with people, arrive at work, or walk into our home, like luggage on a trip, what are you carrying and what are you holding on to. What is in there? Fear, love, worry, maybe it’s the story created from the baggage. These things affect how we interact with the people in our lives and the experiences that we walk into. Often this baggage is caused by what is happening and what we want to happen or how thing are and how we want them to be. It often occurs when we don’t like what is occurring. It can be pain, a busy mind, or stress. This is often based upon our own expectations, perceptions, preferences, and comparisons. On top of this, a disconnection can occur when we go into this space where we can often encounter the stories, the judgments and criticisms for self and others, adding on to the pain and struggle that already exists. 

In these moments can we pay attention and take the time to pause and check in to see what is here. Asking ourselves, what is between me and being present. Taking the time to acknowledge what is arising, pleasant or unpleasant, wanting it or not wanting it and taking the time to name what is here. Perhaps then making a choice to loosen the grip, hold a little less, giving ourselves the opportunity to allow what’s here to be here. Whispering to ourselves allow or this belongs in this moment. These pauses can help to open our eyes so we can see a little more clearly and make choices for ourselves and others, giving us an opportunity to put the bag down for just a moment. And, we may pick it up again and again and we can make the choice to stop and pause again and again.  It might be an opportunity to see what we need and who can help us and support us. Someone that cares about us and loves us. We are not alone and we don’t have to carry the baggage alone. It’s okay for someone else to help us carry the bags and give us the support we need.

Please check out this practice by Tara Brach, Everything Belongs, to help with difficult situations and to work through the baggage. You may also enjoy the short talk and guided practice from our weekly Simply Meditation offering below,

 

Greater Focus With Mindfulness

thumb_user_3596345We are pleased to share a guest post from fellow teacher Dan Del Duca. Dan has harnessed his practice to bring awareness to his experience and to his students. As the school year begins, enjoy Dan’s reflections and join C4SC for upcoming events,

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https://mindfulhappiness.org/2014/breathing-meditation-practices/

The practice of sitting and counting your breaths while practicing mindfulness can be pretty mundane and uneventful. Sometimes I keep moving positions and find I am not really comfortable. I find my mind wandering and sometimes I feel the ten-minute practice is doing little good. The room I meditate in is simply a room with a rug, chairs, tables, and a window looking out at the trees. 

Then suddenly one morning, you have a mindfulness practice that makes an amazing difference in how you see the world. I want to share my story to show the positive power of daily meditation and how it changes the way your brain works and how you observe the world. 

I work as a science teacher in an elementary school. My days are usually fast paced and busy. One of my students was using the 3D printer in the makerspace to print fifteen games pieces for a board game he had invented. The printing of the pieces took over an hour and my student and I were both pleased with the results. As one might predict in an active classroom, students like to pick things up and take a look at them. I noticed later in the afternoon, that one of the fifteen game pieces was missing. My mind had all kinds of stories to explain the missing plastic game piece. I wondered whether I would have to print out the piece again. I was frustrated that I could not find the piece anywhere around the 3D printer. 

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Dan’s Classroom

The next day early in the morning I practiced my ten minutes of mindfulness in the quiet makerspace. I felt I had a rhythm and a calm during the practice, despite the anticipated stopping and starting of my meditation. The ten minutes of silence ended peacefully as I began to look around the room. Early morning light was stretching across the rug and as I looked across the room I saw the small game piece glittering in the sunlight. This was the same game piece I was not able to find the previous day. The discovery was amazing and I realized once again the power of a mindfulness practice. Daily mediation allows you to slow your reaction time so you are able to really see what is in front of you. In the brief moment, I was not worrying about the future or looking back into the past.  I was simply living in the present moment.  When practicing mindfulness, I see the world in front of front of me more clearly.  

Opening to Vulnerability

This August, Center For Self-Care is exploring Vulnerability and Wholeheartedness with several programs including Sunday mornings at Main Line Unitarian Church and Wednesday nights at Balance For Life Yoga in Devon, PA. Our goal is to apply the work of Brene Brown to the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

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https://www.stresstostrength.com/tame-your-busy-mind/

Vulnerability, as defined by Brown, encompasses uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. As a meditator, we practice this on the cushion. We sit with our experiences. We get distracted or lost in thought, and then we come back, again and again. Meditation helps us create space for experience by moving from thoughtless reactivity to thoughtful responsivity. It requires us to be with our feelings, our discomfort, not to mention the failure of losing our attention. It also brings the invitation to choose – many times, the reflection offered by meditation helps us determine what is meaningful to us so that we may act boldly and bravely.

Using vulnerability to get us to a stage of wholehearted living involves the interplay of own internalized shame messages and our capacity for empathy. As we recognize the universal  human experience that our shame messages represent (things like “who do you think you are?” or “Your not good enough”), an empathy emerges to heal and open us to authenticity. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown offers 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living as well as the barriers to experiencing them,

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In our Sunday gathering, I shared the story of a creative block in my first job. It took letting go of my perception of others expectations to let go in to creativity.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 8.00.14 PMBrown’s work has impacted my life and helped me soften in to my experience. Throughout August, we’ll be listening to her interviews with Krista Tippett of On Being each Sunday and bring her theories in to practice at Simply Meditation every Wednesday from 7:15 to 8pm. Please join us. You can also check out The Poetry of Vulnerability.

Below you’ll find the interview we listened to on August 4. Among the segments we didn’t get to listen to is an exploration of vulnerability and gender (~20min mark), parenting (~28min) and culture (~39min). Enjoy.

Sitting With Your Eyes Closed

If this post’s title were a Jeopardy clue, the question might be, “What is meditation?” But more likely, a description of meditation would go far beyond that into the minutiae of not only what meditation is but how to do it. The fact is though, just putting your body there, sitting quietly, and closing your eyes is a solid first few steps.

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Photo by Kelvin Valerio on Pexels.com

During the summer, I aim to meditate each morning before my day begins. I try to keep away from cellphones, computers, and anything that might dive me headlong into my vast list of “to-do’s” that await me. Yesterday, I awoke and quickly stumbled in to the backyard to practice. Forty-five minutes later, I had tended the garden, rearranged some furniture and moved firewood. I wasn’t electronically connected but I certainly wasn’t meditating. Once I arrived at my seat, I closed my eyes and brought attention to my breath. Immediately, I became distracted. “You’re doing it wrong,” “You are too fidgety,” “You aren’t even meditating,” were the thoughts that entered my awareness. And then it dawn on me, “I’m just sitting with my eyes closed.” From my judging mind’s point-of-view, that was meant to be a criticism. But as a practitioner, I was able to see the utility of such a practice.

Sitting with my eyes closed doesn’t ask too much of me. It is hard to do it wrong as long as I’m, well, sitting with my eyes closed. At the same time, there is something quite radical about taking this step. We spend much of our days in a blur of speed and doing. If our eyes are closed, it is usually with the intention to rest or to sleep. Sitting with my eyes closed, I am not talking, moving or accomplishing much of anything. But, I am creating space. I’m creating space to observe my experience and allow my wisdom and intuition a seat at the table. This radical practice reintroduces choice to my experience as I let go of habits that don’t serve me and bring intentional, thoughtful responses to whatever arises.

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The global buzz about mindfulness usually focuses on “being present” and being aware of what is happening in any given moment. It asks the question, “What is happening?” Just as important is another question, “Can I be with it?” Essentially, this question asks, given what is happening, how am I (or will I) relate to it? This is such a critical question when we consider that the problem with stress isn’t necessarily the stressor itself but how we react to it. Our stress response. We can bring out the tools of fight or flight OR we can, as Jack Kornfield writes, “Be aware of the waves and rest seated in the midst of them.”

To be sure, this takes practice. It is one of the reasons we try to find a quiet space to practice. But this practice isn’t about eliminating distractions or clearing our minds. Instead, it is an invitation to whatever might come, especially unpleasant sensations, to join in conversation, telling us what it needs and giving us the space to respond. You can listen to a full teaching above or practice the meditation below.

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Join Center For Self-Care every Wednesday at 7:15 pm for Simply Meditation, a weekly drop-in at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy in Devon, PA.

The Refuge of a Mindful Pause

Danna Faulds’ poem, Walk Slowly, begins “It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection.” No matter the challenge, suffering or chaos; we can still find moments that bring us back to meaning and connection. We can find it in ourselves.

This post offers resources from our April 28 Mindful Pause retreat which was subtitled, “Finding Peace and Refuge in a Busy Life.” Our approach emphasized simplicity, patience, understanding and self-compassion.

We began with three invitations for our time together,

While we meditate in our chair or cushion to build the skills of wisdom and compassion, these invitations are a recipe for authentic, wholehearted living. It just takes practice.

Poetry is an important tool for pausing that we introduced through our work. Allowing the words to flow into you and through you,

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

This Is What I Have To Say To You by Danna Faulds – “You already are all that you need to be.”

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver – “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

We also utilized resources from Kristin Neff’s self-compassion.org website including the Soften, Soothe, Allow practice. This can be particularly helpful when building new habits.


Starting with ourselves, we quickly discover the dance of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Oftentimes, we run away from it. But as we notice, we introduce a choice of how to relate to whatever is happening in this moment. It can be helpful to simply drop in and experience whatever we are feeling without trying to change it or make it a certain way. This makes it simple, but not easy. Being with what is. Welcoming everything.

Along with patience and understanding, a dose of self-compassion is critical. As we experiment with our difficulties, we often slip in to the habit of self-judgment and criticism. And this is just what the medicine of Mindful Self-Compassion offered by Kristin Neff is all about. Self-Compassion consists of three elements: Mindfulness, Shared Experience and Self-Kindness. First, we must know when we are being hard on ourselves. A bit of reflection helps us recognize that we are not alone in this suffering, that it is part of the human experience. Finally, we can offer a self-kindness or self-soothing, that activates our relaxation response, something that lives within us. The practice belows invites an experimentation with how a soothing tooth can calm and relax the body.


Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 7.57.58 PMJoin Center For Self-Care for Fierce Self-Compassion, a three session offering on Wednesdays, May 1, 8 and 15 at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy in Devon, PA. Attend one, some or all sessions.  Through teachings, reflective writing, practice and discussion, our group will cultivate mindfulness skills that promote self-compassion. No experience is necessary, just an inclination towards curiosity and exploration. Sign up today.


Our afternoon included guided Qi Kong practice, the Open Focus body scan practice shown below, and a sensory walk through the beautiful Bryn Mawr College campus.

Finally, we close with time for reflection. After you have done some of this work yourself, you might try out Josh’s guided practice below,

 

An Invitation To Retreat Into Your Experience

To be honest, my daily mindfulness practice isn’t always so mindful. Well, the actual meditation may be but I usually find myself rushing to the cushion and then hustling off immediately afterwards. I have a tendency to jam meditation into the busiest part of my day as if it was just another thing on my “to do” list. And that’s ok. Meditation is as much about what you’re not doing as what you are doing. It is nothing more than practice for the “real work” of life in the world. I certainly recognize that pausing, if only for a moment, is better than the alternative. As I speed through my day, I start to miss a beautiful image or a meaningful conversation.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 8.47.33 AMWhich is why the invitation for extended practice is so valuable. By creating space and time to slowly arrive at the beginning and gently transition at the end, I offer myself care and attention. Retreats, such as A Mindful Pause: Finding Refuge and Peace in a Busy Life give you time to listen to the still, small voice that lives inside each of us but is often drowned out by the cacophony of voices our external world foists upon us. I use this time to set intentions, ask meaningful questions, and connect with others on our mindful journeys. I find myself settling into practice and letting go in a natural, organic way that doesn’t take energy, just intention.

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Listen To Your Heart by YuYu

That’s not to say that retreat are easy. Inevitably, I find a point on retreat where I’ve decided it is time to escape. Once you are just with yourself, you finally listen to what your heart really needs. And it can be overwhelming. This is also an invitation to sit with what I am experiencing. To feel my feelings as I am feeling them. And eventually, it passes. The freedom at this moment is hard to describe.

Join us on Sunday, April 28 from 9am to noon or 4pm at Bryn Mawr College. Our morning session includes teachings, discussions and guided meditations on simplicity, patience, understanding, and compassion. Then, stay with us for an afternoon of bringing these teachings into practice through sensory activities, movement, partner work and real-life application. We hope to see you there!

Just Put Your Body There

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

Just Put Your Body There

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

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

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

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


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

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

Can we say “Yes” to what is arising in this moment? Can we say yes to being human? Can we say “Yes” to imperfection, compassion, understanding and patience? Can we say “Yes” to what we are experiencing right now, perhaps without pushing away, avoiding or changing anything? This could be what we need in this moment. To allow what is here to be here.

Below, I offer a guided practice, Saying Yes to This Moment.

One of my favorite poets is Danna Faulds. She captures this idea of saying “Yes” to our experience in the poem Allow,

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a 
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in —
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.


Join Center For Self-Care for an upcoming event. Follow the links on the right side of the screen for our Wednesday evening Mindfulness Meditation Drop-In as well as Mindful Men Meeting the first Thursday of evening month and our fall 2018 Habit Change monthly class.