“Repetition of simplicity leads to insight.” – David Nichtern
This winter, Center For Self-Care, in conjunction with Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, offers four stand-alone beginner’s meditation workshops in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The series is called “Cultivating The Heart.” Each week, two meditations are offered, one from the tradition of insight meditation and one from the tradition of mindfulness meditation. 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.
We began our second session with a simple practice from Jonathan Foust called, “Moving From Thought to Sensation.” 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.
Next, we explored the practice of loving-kindness. In practice, we bring images to mind and offer our wishes of kindness to an expanding circle of beings. We start simply, with ourselves and a being for whom our love and care comes easily. We continue with a benefactor, a neighbor, friend or a neutral person, before arriving at a person who may be more difficult, someone who has caused us challenge or suffering. Through this practice, we explore an opening of our heart. This practice is for you. The beings you bring to mind needn’t know you have offered these wishes. It may be that loving-kindness to others doesn’t come easily and in that case, you might offer it to yourself. Just like training a puppy, our task is to pause, reset and begin again. The traditional phrases are May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease but you may create your own phrases, just like I have in the Loving-kindness Practice below.
May you be seen. May you be comforted. May you be loved.
Loving-kindness takes practice. At first you might find it mechanical. Stay with it. It may transition to feeling a bit awkward and then to natural and organic!
As part of our beginner’s work, we bring compassion and loving-kindness because it isn’t easy. We will find our human system of judging and comparing jumps at the chance to keep you from pausing to open to a broader awareness. We described the practice of mindfulness as encompassing three steps:
One way to support this is through a practice called “Name it to Tame It.” In this practice, we note or name what arises in our mind, whether it be a thought, memory, emotion or felt sensation. It can be as simple as saying, “Thinking, Thinking” and then returning to the anchor of our breath. If you’ve ever been upset and said aloud, “I’m just really frustrated right now!” you may have experienced a feeling of relief.
Author and Doctor Dan Siegel has shared research on the impact of naming our states on settling our mind. In this process, our emotional system, which senses threats for us and warns our body that something is amiss. But when we involve our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, we are able to soothe emotions through an integrated connection of neurons and synapses that send messages to our emotional system that the perceived threat is not quite so urgent and doesn’t require a reactive response. It is best to practice this in a quiet, calm space then use this practice to enter the world with an approach of thoughtful responses instead of habitual reactions.
Join us on Thursday, March 7 at 6:30pm for our next session of Meditation for Beginners, Cultivating the Heart. Our focus with be Joy.
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,
“The practice is not about mastery. It is about trying.” – Ethan Nichtern (David’s son)
Cover art from the “Be Kind” series. Please support the artist, David Gerbstadt, by visiting his Facebook or GoFundMe page and getting some for yourself.