Exploring mindfulness


Lately I’ve been noticing that “mindfulness” seems to be everywhere these days –including mainstream news.  As the term is bandied about I’m often surprised by where I’m seeing it or who is talking about it, but as I look at much of what is being said, I question how well many people really understand mindfulness.

In many places I see people speaking of it as if it’s only about controlling your mind as an act of will. To me mindfulness is so much more, I feel a little sad every time I see someone settle for such a narrow idea — or for the particularly American tendency to want to control everything, including the mind.

After sitting with a vipassana group for a year I began seeing how many forms of practice there are in which you can quiet your mind into a single focus and achieve more mindfulness:  yoga practiced with breath, or yoga nidra when followed with focus, or chanting when concentrating on the words of the chant,or pranayama while noting only the breath, etc.  To me the point is using practice to learn how it feels to be in the moment in a state of “empty mind” and peacefulness.

When you keep practicing, your mind starts learning to stay more quiet all the time, the state of calm begins to expand throughout your life, and your whole perspective shifts.  It’s so much more than just wrestling my thoughts into submission in a given moment.

When I complete a practice I’m in a space or a zone that has its own feeling tone.  I feel it in my heart.  I feel the calm throughout my body.  I feel in tune with something larger than myself.  Tapped into the Universe.

To me, mindfulness is more about surrender than controlling or willing anything.  In emptying my mind and flowing with the chant or pose or breath or silence, I let go of managing and fall into what Wayne Dyer called “the gap”.  Over time I also learned surrender involves letting the practices take me wherever they lead.

Plans have gone awry and life has unfolded in ways that would never have crossed my mind if I’d kept trying to follow a blueprint designed long ago.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable.  Sometimes it’s scary.  I wouldn’t change any of it.  I like the person I’m becoming.  The change from being mercurial to finding equanimity, from neurotic to peaceful, from anxious to calm…

The quiet mind achieved in mindfulness practices doesn’t involve controlling thoughts.  It’s a space encompassing the moment and peace and higher consciousness.  With practice the space begins to fill life more and more with presence in the moment.  From that place of presence, you can choose to hold onto a thought or let it go.

But you don’t learn true mindfulness if you just try to force your mind regularly to moments when you pick different thoughts.  You’re missing so much if you don’t let yourself be taken to the place where mindfulness is a way of being present, calm, connected and new.


Dungeon Prompts: Needing Some Inspiration

This week’s Dungeon Prompt:

When you’re feeling down or just need a push forward with your day, where do you look for inspiration?  What drives you, or keeps you smiling?  Or when you’re really down, what keeps you alive, and getting out of bed each morning?  You don’t have to write about a major presence or source of inspiration in your life, but can just tell us about one of the little things that elevate you in some way.

One of the best things about 30+ years of yoga and meditation, as well as a lot of emotional processing thrown in along the way, is that I rarely feel “really down” or depressed.  I DO however struggle with frustration over the long trek with physical ill-health as well as the normal ups and downs of life and have days when I really need to shift.

I have a whole toolkit of cures for what ails me emotionally and/or spiritually, with variations to suit different circumstances:

  1. I start every morning with waking up and aligning my chakras by visualizing the energy spinning in each one from root to crown as soon as I wake up.  It helps me start the day in balance and with more energy.  Then I mentally list a few “gratitudes”.  Some days that’s enough to set the tone all day.
  2. If I’m feeling logy because of the muscles interfering with sleep, I do either the 8 Key Breaths or Flying Crane Chi Gung or the 5 Tibetan Rites or a combination.  They not only balance energy and align the chakras, but open and build the flow of energy so I’m more energized as well as calm and in balance.
  3. If I’m feeling uneasy or anxious, I like to do Yoga Nidra or a series of chants.  My current favorite roster of chants is to say the lovingkindness chant for 10 minutes, then sing the Gayatri Mantra and Om Shanti.  After I practice Yoga Nidra or chanting I feel balanced, calmed and my heart is open and full.  Can’t be open-hearted and anxious at the same time.
  4. When my writing is feeling stuck, I do writing practices a la Natalie Goldberg. Get out a notebook and a pen, pick a topic (usually out of her suggested exercises in Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind, set timer for 10-20 minutes and let fly.  It doesn’t work if I type, gotta sit down and write by hand.
  5. One of my almost daily practices is to spend some time sitting on our sun porch either with a laptop or a notebook, enjoying the sunniness and looking out into the garden as I work. It gives me a lift every time.
  6. In nice weather one of the best mood-boosters I have is to just go for a short walk someplace that inspires me.  Fortunately there’s a very nice park right behind the houses across the street, so it’s easy.  I also love going to Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate, to walk around on the grounds.  When I’m in Marin there’s a 1-1/2 mile walk in a loop around the hills where I house sit (and used to live) that puts me in a place of joy every time I walk it.
  7. For 2 or 3 years now I’ve been doing a daily e-mail check-in with a long-time (40+ years!) friend.  Each day we say (1) how we’re feeling, (2) what we intend to do that day, (3) three things we’re grateful for, and (4) anything that brought joy.  It really helps to stay mindful, keeps a focus on all the good that’s happening and most especially it is so helpful to have someone  with whom to check in about it all every day.  And I’m very grateful the internet allows us to do this in spite of 400 miles between 🙂

The biggest thing for me is realizing that if something feels “off” then energy is in some way out of balance.  The main focus for me is thus maintaining alignment and balance in my chakras, my energy, my body.  When it’s all open and aligned, it’s just about impossible to feel down (which is not to say that it alleviates personal grief or shock but it does help to keep those things from overwhelming life).

Most of the time I try to rotate among a number of these practices enough to hold a place of equilibrium without having to stop and do one of them to get back on track.  But getting off track is pretty easy; as long as I can stay tuned in enough to realize I need to do something and then to “feel” which practice would serve, being “really down” is an infrequent to nonexistent feeling for me.

Another 21 day meditation from Deepak and Oprah

Hope meditation ad

A new meditation series from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey begins April 10.  This time the topic is Hope in Uncertain Times.  Certainly seems a good exploration at the moment.

I’ve enjoyed many of these series.  The meditations are short, so not necessarily the deepest experience, but I’ve found the issues raised about each topic have led me to explore deeper places on my own and the chanting always feels good.

You can register here.

Subtle shifting

English: Beach, Grescleit. The sands are shift...

Shifting Sands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent several weeks recently reading my way through Life Loves You by Robert Holden and Louise Hay and sort of doing the practices.  Some I did exactly as provided, some I re-crafted to use similar practices I know..

It’s been a return to the sort of practices and info I devoured at the beginning of my spiritual journey.  On one hand I’ve very much enjoyed the return to the basics as well as seeing how much more these things flow after years of clearing away emotional debris and physically opening my body.  On the other hand, counter to their predictions for big change, this far down the road and after the huge amounts of change and release I’ve already undergone, to me the impacts of this work were subtle.

Getting my mind to quit running old tapes and stop reacting out of inter-generational habits has been one of my great challenges.  I’ve finally reached a place where the kind of positive thinking, gratitude and forgiveness practices in this book grab hold with greater ease and I’m so pleased to feel the years of work on affirmations and retraining my brain are resulting in finally seeing a bigger impact from such practices.

The piece about which I’ve been most excited was a little change that suddenly happened with my lovingkindness chanting several weeks in on the Life Loves You venture.  As you know, I’ve been a fan of the lovingkindness chant for years and since the election I’ve established a regular practice of chanting it for 10 minutes 4 or 5 times a week.  Suddenly one night I found myself saying it with a change of emphasis while simultaneously being flooded with a sense of the meaning of each separate affirmation:

  • I am filled with lovingkindness
  • I am well
  • I am peaceful and at ease
  • I am happy

It’s hard to describe the inner shift as I say it now.  Over the years I’ve mostly said it as one continuous piece.  It’s always been powerful for me, always opened a big flow of energy through my heart.  But now I’m saying it with a great consciousness of each phrase being an affirmation of something I truly assert to be true — and the powerful feeling has grown.

Another phase of major unwinding has been unfolding as well, opening some significant pieces where my left eye, cheek and jaw have all felt crunched together.  Still not done, but open enough to feel something significant is happening.

Then the other night I had a bunch of tabs open on my browser and as I moved from one to another I noticed I had 5 FB notifications, 5 new posts waiting on WP, 5 notifications from Pinterest, an ad with a big “5” in it….  Although I find it interesting, I’ve never had a conscious experience of one or more numbers repeating like that.  Linda over at litebeing chronicles does pay a lot of attention to numbers and knows a lot about it so when the first post I saw on FB the next day was from her and IT had “5” in it, I asked her about the meaning.  “Change,” she said.  I also found a site with spiritual meanings of numbers and “manifestation” came up.

Feels like the Universe is giving me a big thumbs up and confirming big change is afoot!



Lately it’s been this and that…

Refugee Forum

Refugee Forum

I will get back to the series I’ve been writing on “Peace Begins With You”.  But I’ve been kind of scattered and distracted lately…  not the best mode for putting together a coherent series…  I gather a lot of this is going around 🙂  But stuff is happening so I thought I’d put up one of my this and that type posts.

Vow to Love

I signed up for Karen Chrappa’s Vow to Love on line class and after the first video I’m excited to be participating.  Moved by current events, she’s calling us to a space of love through a series of guided meditations.  I found the first one powerful and am looking forward to watching the second, which I’ve not gotten to yet.  By following this link  you can still sign up.

Practice Change-up

A couple of weeks ago I suddenly felt drawn to do the long yoga nidra for the first time in quite a while.  Since it takes 45 minutes I thought I’d skip chanting practice.  Surprisingly after a long absence I stayed mindfully right with it and found myself in the lovely state of feeling one with spirit and detached from personality this practice induces for me.  I also felt a longing to sing the Gayatri when I finished.  So I sang the 9 minute chant.  I’d never done the chant after yoga nidra and I was blown away by how powerful the chant became when preceded by the meditation.

I felt so pulled back to the yoga nidra that I’ve done the short version several times since, sometimes with and sometimes without chanting after.  It was fun to see I’ve shifted enough that the short version, which I used to find far less satisfying than the long, now has quite a powerful impact on me.

I love changing it up with practices.  I love seeing how my experience of them changes as I change.  I love doing experiments with putting one thing after another and then switching that up to see how the order of doing impacts the energy and feeling of them.  Do you find the order in which you do practices changes the experience?

Shakin’ it up in this old red state

Lexington is actually a blue city in a red state, so while much of the country assumes we’re all right wing Christians down here, we actually have quite the community of liberal democrats — I think every friend I have here was for Bernie…

Last Saturday I went to a well-attended talk on Muslim Interfaith Dialog at which a charismatic local doctor of Iraqi heritage explained the Islam faith and talked about many of the false perceptions that have been propagated through the media.  I’d looked into this over the years so much of it wasn’t news to me, but I was very excited to be in a room full of people all open to listening and supporting.

Then last night I headed off to a forum on Refugees held at the enormous Christ Church Cathedral downtown.*  It was SRO, the speakers were excellent and the crowd was full of energy and enthusiasm for ending the ban.  I was moved by so much of it, but possibly the most moving thing to me was listening to our Chief of Police state his welcome to all who come to Lexington seeking refuge.

I’ve been wondering where the departments, forces, etc. with guns who ultimately enforce –or choose not to enforce — the law are standing on what’s going on.  To be honest I wouldn’t have predicted the police would side with the refugees and immigrants.  He was so absolute in his statement of support I was teary-eyed.

Right now I’m showing up for lots of things like this.  Sunday I have to choose between the first meeting of “Indivisible” here and a rally for refugees being held at the same time and across the street from one another…  I’m still fired up about being “for” instead of against and discovering I’m “for” a lot of stuff — just haven’t decided where to focus my energy.

As well as exploring my options about where I can help, the main thing I’m looking at is midterm elections in 2018 and how we get from here to a democratic or social democratic congress…  So far I haven’t bumped into a group to join for that…

*An ironic little side note:  my uncle’s wife’s father (all three long dead…) used to be organ-master for this Episcopal church, which led my dad (a child when this much-older brother got married) and some other family members to attend for some years.  I used to walk by on my way downtown from Grandma’s house with my best friend.  But last night was the first time I ever set foot in the church.



Levels of opening

Three monks chanting in Lhasa, 1993

Three monks chanting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been over a month now that I’ve been regularly chanting.  First time in quite a while I’ve had a regular chanting or meditation practice.  I’ve done a bunch of those 21 day meditations in recent years and I’ve done a couple of 40 day practices, but it’s been years since such a practice has stuck.

A lot has changed in my body since the days when meditation was a daily practice.  In fact, some of the change is due to the movement practices I’ve done to balance energy and open flow instead of meditating.

One of the blessings of the long-term sorting out of my muscles and their steely impersonation of body armor has been that as they open, I experience many things about practices differently and learn nuances I’m not sure I’d have noted without the change.

Since my appointment with Hanna, the muscles have been unwinding and the usual sleep deprivation and headaches have ensued, which has led to missing days of chanting here and there and occasionally two in a row.  I’ve changed the chants since I first started, beginning each time with the lovingkindness chant and then singing the Gayatri Mantra and Om Shanti Om.

The Gayatri, among other important impacts, opens the heart.  Om Shanti Om is chanted for peace and I find it opens my heart.  The lovingkindness chant also brings me into a big heart space.  Chanting these every day helped immeasurably to calm my distress in the wake of the election.  At first, if I missed a day I went right back to feeling panicky, then as soon as I chanted again, calm returned.

After a couple of weeks the peace settled in and I could miss a day without any big change.  When sleep deprivation, headaches and missing days of chanting hit all at once, I noted that I could hold the peace through one missed day but a second tipped me back into unease and anxiety.  I’ve also been learning anxiety is often a side effect of sleep deprivation for me, not as intense as the “oh no that thing can’t be president” panic, but noticeable.  And it too is soothed away by chanting.

While I chant I feel so much more energy moving through me than I’ve ever felt from the same practices before.  Channels and pathways opened as the muscles released and in so many areas I can now feel energy flowing through.  I feel the power of the chanting more than ever.  I feel it changing me.

Between the chanting and the releases Hanna helped to achieve it’s been a time of realizations and movement forward.  After a long time of receiving “wait” messages, I’ve heard the time to wait is ending.

In the meantime I love the slow awakening of feeling and the subtle ways in which my practices change as I grow.  I’m ever more aware of how much tight muscles stop the flow and reduce how much I feel when I do yoga or meditate or chant or …  All the hard work…  so worth it!


Still Chanting: the ups and downs…

English: Peace, Love and Increase

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a little tired and out of sorts so thought I’d just give a short update on my progress with lovingkindness chants, etc.  Sometimes it feels to me as if lots of people expect practices to serve as magic wands that will sweep you into a permanent state of peace or bliss.

I find it a bit more up and down and back and forth.  For me practices are a way to generally hold a calmer space but also the tools for pulling myself back to being calm and centered when life’s bumpy road knocks me to other states of being.  Doing practices doesn’t take the bumps out of that road or stop me from having varying moods.

Over all I’ve calmed down quite a bit since I started my lovingkindness practice (metta).  I’ve also changed it up.  When I began I was doing 10 minutes for me, 10 minutes for Trump and 10 minutes for America.  Soon I switched out the last 10 minutes of metta for singing the Gayatri Mantra and/or Om Shanti.  Just felt pulled to be doing singing chants too, so I chose two that are used for peace.

I’ve also been working on Deepak and Oprah’s latest 21 day meditation since before the election (I’m behind…).  And “just happens” to be the perfect topic for this quest for finding peace in these troubling times.  Which of all these practices get done on a given day is variable.

I’m very up and down though.  There’s so much angry stuff being spewed, I find myself pulled into the anger.  The extreme anxiety and upset stomach initially subsided for maybe half a day each time I chanted but for the first days came back.  That has leveled out now and I’m back to spending my days calm with only short moments of losing my center.

My emotions still shift.  I’ve cried while chanting or felt waves of nausea.  For the first time ever I burst into tears while singing the Gayatri (this chant previously has just opened my heart, not touched into deep issues) and for a few minutes couldn’t stop.  The other day Mark Bialczak asked readers to comment on their wishes for Trump.  The first and only thought that jumped into my head:  “fatal heart attack”…

Apparently I’m going to be chanting for a long, long time…  Because that’s not who I want to be and I’m going to chant until I find the connection.