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.

What Brings You Here?

logo.pngThe practice of mindfulness asks us to notice and allow. Each moment is an opportunity to notice what’s here, allowing it to be here without changing anything, pushing away or avoiding. It is important because it can help us to see what is really here.  Things will change, emotions will come and go, but when we step back, we open space to identify what is important to us and what we need for our own care.

In our last Mindful Dads Meeting, I offered three questions:

  • What brings you here?
  • What do you need for your care?
  • What is your intention?

You don’t need to be sitting with a group to reflect on these questions. You might even try it out now:

This post is the sixth 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.


landscape-1445637858-1444139506-meditating.jpgThe best time to meditate? Now! if this very second won’t do, we can support you in your practice. We are online every Sunday at 9pm and Tuesday at 8:30pm at www.center4selfcare.com/meditate4selfcare. In the coming weeks, we have mens fire circles and dads groups suitable for all experience levels.


Suffering = Pain * Resistance

77645358.jpgThere are so many motivations that bring us to mindful practice. We may be stuck in regrets of the past or fearful of challenges in the future. Oftentimes, our attempt to control our circumstances leaves us worse for the wear. When we hold on too tight, we get rope burn.

The formula above reminds us that we can feel pain, unpleasant and negative emotions, but still experience joy and contentment. It is only when we resist and react that the pain is literally multiplied into suffering. We can incline ourselves towards joy by allowing for our emotions, holding them lightly and letting them come and go on their own time.

As we discussed in our group, I offered two conditions for joy. It’s as simple as when

  • people pay attention to us
  • we receive a message that says, “I’m here for you and I care about you”

Interestingly, we can often these gifts to ourselves through self-compassion and self-care. We can bring our attention inward and treat ourselves with love and forgiveness. In the practice below, we use an awareness of the body to find meaning and purpose in our experience.

Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?

“It” happens.

Uninvited and unpleasant circumstances arrive in our life with frightening regularity. We can try to push away our experience, but all too often, our aversion makes it worse. And when we carry around this “dung”, it weighs us down (and, figuratively, makes us smell). If instead, we use it as fertilizer to cultivate a deeper wisdom and understanding, we grow and evolve.

push-away.jpgMy arrival to the practice of meditation followed this path. All at once, I lost my father and my business. My wife was struggling with a health issue, school wasn’t going so well for either of the kids and I was having trouble sleeping. My response was to try to fix everything. To grab the reigns of control so tightly that not one more thing could go wrong. My teacher likes to say, “What you resist persists.” And it did. Any effort to solve these problems just created more problems. It wasn’t until I let go a bit, felt the discomfort, and watched my experience play out that life came back in to balance.

Ajahm Brahm, author of Who Ordered This Truckload Of Dung? was trained in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahm Chah (also Jack Kornfield’s teacher). His unique brand of humor makes meditation accessible and relatable. Below, he shares the simile of the dung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx2dnLxO2nM

His approach is very forgiving. He reminds that there are three things to know about the piles of dung that surround us, be they big or small:bad-smell-foul-odor-smelly-fart.jpg

1) You did not ask for this dung.
2) You can’t send it back to where it came from.
3) It really stinks (to the point of nearly being unbearable).

We can either respond to the dung delivery by filling our pockets with it, our bags, our belongings and so on, carrying it with us wherever we go. This is unlikely to make us many friends. The alternative is to see the dung and get to work. We bring it around back to the garden and gently turn it into the soil of our experience. With patience and time, the pile becomes smaller and our garden grows stronger. When we see our challenges as fertilizer, we can use them to cultivate an abundant garden of flowers, fruits, vegetables and love.

This isn’t easy, but we can practice! We meditate and notice what is arising, the thoughts, feelings and sensations that distract us from the object of our attention, be it the breath, the body or sounds. “Working the dung” is aspirational. There is no way our pile will disappear. But when we catch ourselves over and over again, we are literally training our brain to hold our experience more loosely.


Just this week, one of my son’s teachers introduced me to the Aran Islands, just off the coast of Ireland. These islands became the home for displaced Catholics hundreds of years ago. They arrived to a giant pile of rocks:

Source: http://culturalroadmapp.com/irelands-aran-islands-a-writers-retreat-for-j-m-synge/

With patience, they built the rocks into walls. They brought sand to the terraces they’d carved out. And finally they brought nutrient-rich manure and seaweed to mix in to the new soil. Ultimately, they created one of the most fertile agricultural landscapes in Ireland. The secret ingredient was the dung. These are the ingredients of our lives. What will we do with them?

Being a Dad

This summer I thought a lot about Mindfulness and why I “got into it” and why it has become such an important part of who I am. One of the biggest reasons I “got into it” was that I wanted to be more present with my family (Wife and Kids) and enjoy my time with them more. Everybody says it, when it comes to your kids, and it is true from my experience, it goes so fast. The other piece is I didn’t like the way I was reacting to my son which in turn caused me to not like myself. What I realized is that I had to start with myself and take care of me. Mindfulness has given me this gift. It has helped me to be a more patient, kind, loving, present, compassionate, and understanding husband, dad, friend, brother, colleague, counselor, coach, teacher, and son. As I reflected upon all of this I began to think about, what does it mean to be a dad (parent)?

Being a dad is…….

Love, fear, joy, stressful, courageous, uncertainty, gratitude, the greatest thing, the hardest thing, happiness, brings tears to my eyes, insecurity, makes me a better person/human being, messing up, not knowing it all, humility, hugs, kisses, high fives, pats on the back, wrestling, tickling, laughing, playing, crying, smiling, pain, exhausting, In For Life, unexpected, love to the highest degree, teaching, learning, listening, yelling, frustration, not enough sleep, providing, changing diapers, asking them to do the same thing again and again, intense, worry, imperfect, kindness, pleasant, unpleasant, vulnerability, emotional, fun, milestones, playful, demanding, messing up, trying the best I can, comparing, setting an example, not being good enough, needing a drink, being called dad, seeing them born, seeing them grow up, wanting the best for my kids, can’t put into words, unchartered territory, compassion, spending time together, being as present as I can be, timeouts, listening, disciplining, takes heart, hard work, tender, memories, connection, caring, most important thing and matters most, responsibility, beating myself up, unpredictable, heart-breaking, heart-warming, empathy, tucking them in, soccer, coaching, their biggest fan, watching movies, going out to dinner, vacations, kissing a boo boo, exhausting, taxi service, supporting, failing, roller coaster ride, an adventure, making meals, first steps, scoring the goal, seeing them left out, an honor, no guarantees, a myracle, always wanted to be one, family, LOVE, Alyssa, Kody, Annemarie…….