The Humor in a Practice, Part 1

Let’s face it, meditation is not a direct path to peace and enlightenment. It is a deeply humbling practice that invites us to pay attention to what is happening regardless of its quality. Still, we can find ourself treating is as a grim duty that just adds to our list of to-dos.

At the same time, the practice inclines us towards compassion, kindness and joy. As we observe the response of our mind, we perhaps learn not take things so seriously because the mind does what it wants to do. What is your practice like? If you are anything like me, you’ll probably recognize this:

Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about three things: my family, meditation and stand-up comedy. After my dad died in 2011, comedy (specifically WTF with Marc Maron) was the one tool that helped me grieve without trying to avoid the grief itself.  It allowed me to feel what I was feeling without it consuming me. I was able to sense the common experience of these painful emotions in the stories comedians were telling. Comedians take the serious and the mundane and create a world to explore the range of human emotions. Many comedians have taken up meditation and spiritual paths including Pete Holmes, Natasha LeggeroJoe Rogan, and, below, Jen Kirkman. You owe it to yourself to watch the first 15 minutes of her Just Keep Livin’? special on Netflix, but you can get a sneak peak in the video below:

I’ll be sharing more stand-up comedy with you in a future blog post but in the meantime, you might try the practice below on the Insight Timer App.

One of my favorite teachers, David Gandelman of Grounded Mind, offers a meditation called Letting Go of Seriousness that I encourage you to check out on Insight Timer or just online. He declares, “humor is the grease and seriousness is the glue” as we work with challenging circumstances and long-standing habits. His humorous style offers several opportunities to lighten and soften throughout the meditation. Below, he offers an introduction without the meditation. Enjoy.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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?

“Don’t Know” Brings Us Together

When it took me twenty minutes to drive around the block to meet my wife and son for the ride home through the “Bomb Cyclone” on Friday afternoon, I knew it was going to be a long journey. Thankfully, my day was done and I didn’t have any responsibilities waiting for me at home. bomb-1515075605-8916.jpgFiring up the Waze GPS, it indicated that we’d traverse the 6 miles in just over 30 minutes. It was a relief given traffic was currently at a standstill. An hour later, as we once again passed our starting point, Waze was still feeling optimistic, just 35 minutes to go!

Across town, my friend was stuck at 69th Street Station. Hundreds of people huddled in the cold waiting for the bus that was to replace the train that wasn’t coming. Apparently, the bus wasn’t coming either. She sensed a spirit of kindness in the soothing words and conversations of those around her. A sense that “we’re all in this together.” One of the men near her finally arranged a ride home to his due-in-three-days pregnant wife. He proceeded to offer to share his ride with several of his new acquaintances.


Our mission at Center For Self-Care is to build communities through mindful exploration and connection. We have several such opportunities in the coming weeks including:

Wed., March 14 @ 8pm – Mindful Dads Meeting
Sun., March 18 @ 2pm – The Mindful Parent: How Mindfulness At Home Begins With You Sun., April 8 @ 9:30am – Connection and Reflection Full-Day Mindfulness Retreat

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The snow continued to fall and our family seemed farther from our home than when we started. Every few minutes a car would perform an awkward u-turn and head in the other direction. I tried it myself but it was of no use. It dawned on me, “None of us have any idea what to do.” We don’t know. When I looked at our situation from that perspective, I felt a real softening. Again, I was fortunate that I wasn’t hurrying to work or to care for a child or sick relative. But it helped me feel a compassion for the people in the cars surrounding me. They all wanted to get where they were going and didn’t know how to make that happen.

Cropped-shot-of-mature-male-couple-with-arms-around-each-other-at-coast.jpgI don’t know,” can be uncomfortable and uncertain. Our inherent negativity bias tells us that this feeling is dangerous, even life-threatening. But it also has the power to bring us together. Then next time you “don’t know,” explore the feeling and sense who else might be feeling the same way. Not only does connecting with a shared experience help cultivate self-compassion, it can bring us together in ways big and small. Including for a ride home. Even if it takes four hours.

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.