Meditation For Beginners: Loving-Kindness

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.

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!

Catch Yourself

Be Gentle

Begin Again

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.

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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. 

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,

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.

How To Ask A Beautiful Question

question heartFor me, the guiding question “Does it have heart?” is most resonant of the beautiful questions. I can’t remember the last time my to-do list had fewer than 15 things I just needed to do ASAP. They won’t all get done. There are different ways to prioritize them: easiest to hardest, smallest to biggest, etc. But the method that most enlivens me is asking “Does it have heart?” to guide my next act. I must admit, this occasionally leads to sticky situations including unanswered emails or too much dirty laundry. But when the question reminds me to put away the cell phone and connect more deeply with my family, it serves me well.

David Whyte writes (lightly paraphrased), “if we are able to construct a question that is beautiful, it will stay with us for the rest of our lives.” Deep and open-ended questions lead us to connect with that which gives us meaning and purpose. Whyte has compiled a list of 10 Questions That Have No Right To Go Away. They include:

What can I be wholehearted about? Am I harvesting this year’s season of my life? Can I be quiet, even inside? Am I too inflexible in my relationship to time? How can I drink from the deep well of things as they are? Can I live a courageous life?


20171202_120322On December 2, Your Mindful Coach, in cooperation with Center for Self-Care, hosted Asking The Beautiful Questions: A Mindfulness Workshop. The retreat was inspired by the work of Jonathan Foust and other teachers.

The questions we ask harness “the one who knows“, that unconditioned self that is absolute inside of each of us. Foust describes the dance of intuition  between “who you are, fully human, full of doubts and fears and anxiety and pettiness and need to control; and who you are free of anxiety, who you are free of fear.”

To find this place, we can begin with empowering questions. Questions that shift our mindset and open us to possibility. We began with the four questions as described by Foust:

  • What do you love about this life?
  • What gives you energy?
  • What about this life enlivens you?
  • What would happen if you did more of that?

Another approach is to engage with our lived experience. Noticing and allowing what is arising and passing. One way to practice is with this guided meditation from Josh:

Asking open-ended questions can support us in clarifying our next steps. Accessing our passions, our motivations and our heart. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, offers a strategy based on questions for accomplishing what we want to do. Too often, we set goals without clear plans for achieving them. We get blocked by obstacles or procrastinate. Ferriss turns the goal setting process on its head by offering Fear Setting.

Here are Tim’s questions when faced with a problem, issue, situation or upcoming decision:

Define → What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Prevent → What could you do to prevent this from happening?
Repair → What could you do to correct it if and when it happens?

What might the benefits of an attempt or a partial success be?

If I avoid this action or decision & decisions like it, what will my life look like in 6, 12, 36 months?

The point is not to masterfully and fully answer these questions but instead to see what arises. When I last undertook this exercise, I used an example of a business opportunity I’m pursuing. Asking “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” elicited the response, “It might not work” and “I could be embarrassed“. As I felt into those worst cases, I felt a softening and a loosening because those weren’t actually all that bad when I investigated them. I did, however, consider the “repair” question to better plan for an adverse outcome and how I would respond.

In the talk below, Foust describes the non-dual, non-conceptual mindstates that become accessible to us as we come to presence and ask these beautiful questions. We move out of our “doing” and spend more time “being.” For many of us, the tasks of our work require judging, analyzing, comparing, debating. But that isn’t always the best way to discover peace and equanimity.

I have found questions to be helpful in the heat of the moment as well. When I am under stress and feel like shouting, screaming, arguing or even running away, I use the following questions to reset, pause and approach with a thoughtful response:

What am I doing?
Is it right?
What will I do next?

There are countless questions that open our mind. What resonates for you? What will you do next?

 

 

The Most Important Job

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg declares, “They say that the healing is in the returning. Not in never having wandered to begin with.”

The most important job is to begin again.

In mindfulness meditation, a core practice is returning your attention when it becomes lost. You may find yourself lost in thought. And that is okay. The point isn’t to perfect your meditation or empty your mind. Instead, it is to return over and over, no matter how far your mind has traveled or how long it has wandered from the present moment. We use our breath, our body, our senses to gently guide us back to now, the only moment that there really is.

Its simple but not easy. I regularly find myself in meditation ruts, barely making it into the chair each day. Sitting for a few minutes and then bailing out. At these times, I remind myself to begin again simply. I abandon the elaborate practices I’ve been forcing myself to do and move to a single instruction: “Just put your body there.” I may find myself sitting in a car, lying in bed or walking to class. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I just begin again.

Science tells us that meditation cultivates brain neuroplasticity. We can literally rewire our brain through intentional practice. Building new pathways in our brain that support positive habits. Jonathan Foust writes, “The neurons that fire together wire together.” This is one reason why consistent practice is so important. We are literally restructuring our brain.

Beginning again doesn’t just apply to meditation. The same thing is true in life. Routines and habits become ingrained and unconscious. But you can “teach an old dog new tricks.” Contrary to previous understandings, we now know that the brain is constantly growing and changing.

How do we begin again? Start before you’re ready. Start now, while you are reading this sentence. Begin again. Allow yourself to breath deeply. Lower your standards and let go of expectations. After all, the practice is in returning. So naturally, any new plan, system or resolution is going to run into trouble. The work will be to return, adjust, to begin again. This form of beginning again is a radical type of self-care. Recognizing our human fallibility and resetting our course.


0a56b8fecb83dfaf375fdef4ae677ca9--the-circle-circle-of-lifeIt seems a good time to consider beginning again as the weather starts to change and students return to school. For me, one new beginning is the launch of a business partnership focused on self-care. We begin next week with the formal announcement and new programming focused on men and dads. After several years practicing and teaching, now is a perfect time to begin again by investigating my passion, my experience and my calling. The experience of being a man has resonated for me and deepened my practice as I’ve joined in fellowship with groups of men this summer. I look forward to sharing many wonderful stories this fall.


Programs Coming this fall

Men’s Programs
 
These men’s group offer a safe, comfortable atmosphere to join in fellowship while sharing our universal stories and connections.
 

Mindful Men Meeting First Thursday each month beginning September 7, 7:30-8:45pm. Practice and discussion to support a regular mindfulness practice.

camp-fire1Men Sitting By A Fire Third Thursday each month beginning September 21, 7:30-9:00pm. Inquiry-based discussion group focused on male identity, roles and responsibility.
Bravery & Courage Retreat Friday, November 3 at 7pm to Sunday, November 5 at noon. Men’s residential mindfulness retreat for beginner and experienced participants.
General Programs
 
Meditation for Beginners: Cultivating The Heart Sept 25, Oct 3 (Tues), Nov 27 & Dec 4, 7:30-8:45pm. Instruction to support focus, calm and life balance through meditation.