Category Archives: Meditation

Where Is All This Anger Coming From?

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Where Is All This Anger Coming From?

Since the 2016 presidential election, shit has been hard for some of us. For the rest of us, shit has been hard for a while. ~ Lama Rod Owen, Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger

Flying north to New York the night of Election Day 2016, I watched with dawning horror as the results shown on the seatback TV screen gradually confirmed that Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States. A numbness spread through my brain and down into my body. The only thing I could feel was nausea.

Never had I been so scared in my life. Not even close. I was terrified of what he would do in the White House. Four years later, I realize that what damage I imagined he could do was minuscule compared to the things he actually has done. This year alone – with his responses (or lack thereof) to the coronavirus and the roar of protestors against racism and police brutality – far exceeds any nightmare my febrile brain could have cooked up in November 2016.

Fear is not the only emotion I have felt since then. There has been much anger as well. I felt anger toward Trump. Toward his enablers. Toward his supporters. Toward Fox News and the other right-wing media. Toward the police that commit violence against people of color. So much anger that it began to ooze out of my pores, giving off a scent that I imagine made me unpleasant to be around.

That feels foreign to me so many years after I began to practice meditation and mindfulness and took the first steps on the path toward Buddhism. I had learned to contemplate feelings of anger with equanimity and curiosity as to their source, and to not treat them as inherently bad. One of the primary benefits of that practice is that I rarely act in anger. The periodic outbursts that characterized the first 30 or so years of my life were virtually nonexistent. The barely controlled rage that turned my face red and made my skin feel like it was burning was a feeling I hardly recalled.

This year, though…oh man. It’s not that I’m ranting and raving. There are no viral videos of me losing my shit. But it is taking a lot more work in my practice to cope with the anger I am feeling these days. I am not certain that I fully understand why I have felt so much anger. It is too simple to pin it on Trump’s actions (and inactions), or on the more than 120,000 deaths from COVID-19, or on the tragic deaths of so many Black people at the hands of those charged with protecting them. Those things mostly make me feel profound sadness.

I have a sense that at least some of the anger I feel is borne of fear. Fear for my health. Fear for the lives of my older family members and friends. Fear for the lives of my Black friends and my mixed-race nephews and niece. Fear that the society, government, and planet I am leaving to my daughter are irreparably damaged, that I have failed to set her up for an adult life that is at least a notch better than mine.

The anger may be a response to those fears, like my body is trying to change the channel to a less-discomfiting emotion. The emotion may be different but the physical and psychological response to anger has felt every bit as unpleasant – more unpleasant, really – than the fear.

Truth is, I’m not sure. I have much more work to do to figure it out and process it healthfully. I am hoping that Lama Rod Owen’s new book, Love and Rage, will help. His other book that I’ve read, Radical Dharma, overwhelmed me, but in a good way. He and his co-authors taught me things in that book that simultaneously felt completely foreign and absolutely true. I feel a kinship to him, different as we are in so many ways, but linked by sharing a connection to Lama Norlha Rinpoche, with whom I first took refuge in the Three Jewels.

I also hope that Lama Rod’s book will help me to better understand the anger and fear and other emotions experienced by Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color. My fear and anger have been nearly debilitating, despite my many advantages as a white male, despite the minuscule chance that I will be the victim of police brutality. What must they be feeling? I imagine it is a magnitude several factors greater than anything I’m feeling. And I have little conception of what that must be like.

Will you join me in trying to understand, to educate ourselves, to make amends and advance the process of making things right? Commit with me to learn how we’ve contributed to the unjust society we live in, no matter how uncomfortable or shameful it feels. Commit with me to act on what we learn.

What is journaling?

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What is journaling?

The simplest answer is, “Whatever  you want it to be.” I have found that journaling is a lot like meditation: There is no single way of journaling that is right for everyone; to the contrary, journaling is whatever form of routine writing that supports us.

In the same way that meditation is not limited to sitting with our legs crossed and our eyes closed, journaling is not limited to whatever particular practice that one calls “journaling.” The walking meditation espoused by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, for instance, is a perfectly acceptable alternative to sitting on a cushion if it is the form of meditation that supports our health – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional… The form is not important, but rather the intention of centering ourselves and tapping into our awareness of what is going on inside us and around us.

Likewise, there are countless types of journaling that are beneficial, not just keeping a diary. We can write page upon page of detailed reminiscences of our day’s thoughts and activities, or we can jot down a few words that have been swirling around our brains. We can make a list of things we are grateful for, or sketch out a goal for the day, week, or month. Any of those and many other forms of journaling are perfectly acceptable alternatives if they are the form of journaling that supports our health – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional… The key is, again, not the form, but rather the intention of paying attention to our thoughts and actions by giving them even the relatively tiny bit of attention and time necessary to write them down.

Journaling of that sort is a type of mindfulness practice.

Best of all, we don’t have to practice just one form of meditation or one form of journaling. On any given day, we can pursue the form that we feel we need at that time. It is a healthy thing to regularly think about what we have in our lives to be grateful for, but it may not be the type of journaling that we most need on a particular day.

Remember that we cannot pick incorrectly when it comes to journaling, meditation, and other mindfulness practices. Any one of them can benefit us.

Treating thoughts with compassion

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Treating thoughts with compassion

It is perfectly normal, while meditating, for stray thoughts to arise in one’s mind. This is NOT a sign that we’re failing at meditation – I’ve been meditating for 30 years and thoughts pop up almost every time. Whatever you do, don’t give up meditating because your brain continues to function while you’re meditating. Here are some ideas for dealing with thoughts that you might consider.

  1. Don’t fight the thoughts when they arise, or try to stamp them down. Fighting them means you’re focusing on them rather than on what you want your meditation to be about.
  2. Instead, treat those thoughts with compassion. Recognize that they are normal, not signs of bad meditating (as if there were such a thing). And don’t beat yourself up for having them.
  3. Come up with a mental exercise for gently setting the thoughts aside for later. Personally, I imagine the subject of the thought as having been written down on a sheet of paper; I place the paper on top of a neat pile of other thoughts and carefully place a paperweight on top of them. As each new thought arises, I repeat the visualization of neatly placing the paper on top of the pile and replacing the paperweight.
  4. When you’re done meditating, mentally return to those thoughts (that’s why I use the paperweight, so they don’t blow away before I can consider them). I sift through those pages I set aside and ask myself whether they are things that I need to think about more or act upon. If I don’t remember all of them (I never do), it probably means the thought was not important or urgent; it it is either, it’ll come back later, no doubt.
  5. If a particular thought is insistent, perhaps you need to pause your meditation momentarily to consider it more closely. Why is this thought coming up now, and why won’t it stop? Again, treat the thought compassionately, not as an enemy. Your mind may be telling you there’s something important you need to know or deal with. After giving the thought some attention, you may then be able to put it aside until your meditation time is over.

Meditation When We Most Need It

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Meditation When We Most Need It

Imagine someone who will take aspirin for a mild headache but, when they get a really bad headache, decides not to take the aspirin.

That’s what we do sometimes with meditation when we are under great stress or feeling unhappy or not feeling well. At the moment when we most need meditation, when mindfulness would be most valuable to us, we decide not to practice them. We don’t have time, or we don’t feel like it, or it doesn’t seem like they’re helping us.

I almost never say someone has to do this thing or must do that thing. But this is one instance in which I insist that you push through the resistance and practice meditation and mindfulness anyway, because I know that the payoff will be worth it. Stress is reduced, or we are better able to deal with it. Spirits are lifted, or we realize that it’s normal and okay to feel down sometimes. The psychological burden of “being sick” dissipates, and we recover more quickly.

So, try hardest to meditate at those times when the resistance to meditating is greatest. And take an aspirin when you’ve got a headache – we suffer enough without enduring maladies that are easily resolved.

Meditation and Mindfulness Continue to Spread

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Meditation and Mindfulness Continue to Spread

Following up on my recent post about mindfulness and meditation in schools, here are some more stories to document their continued spreading through the educational system.

Mindfulness in Hamilton County schools: A significant step toward creating a wiser generation

Hamilton County School System literacy coach Jennifer Knowles followed the signs: a conversation about yoga, another about a mindfulness app, reconnecting with an old friend and a personal desire to more fully experience the present moment. It all led her to a new “secret passion” of teaching mindfulness at a couple of local public schools.

Smiling minds at Sebastopol Primary

Sebastopol Primary School pupils all have Smiling Minds this year. Every day, between lunch and maths classes, all the pupils and teachers spend six minutes doing mindfulness exercises via the popular Smiling Minds app. Stretched out on the classroom floor, the pupils do deep breathing and relaxation exercises which principal Michelle Wilson said promoted clearer thinking and calmer playground conflict resolution.

Health Watch: Mindfulness in the classroom

Mindfulness and meditation techniques are being used in schools across the country. A recent study by the University of California-Davis and the non-profit organization, Mindful Schools, shows mindfulness triples students’ ability to focus and participate in class activities. It’s not a big deal to see fourth graders meditating and kindergarteners practicing mindful breathing at a mindful elementary school. Every class here has students doing the same thing. Heidi Palmiero-Potter, a 4th Grade Teacher at Harris Hill Elementary School in Buffalo, New York admits students, “They’re less impulsive with each other, they think about their words before they speak so it definitely spills to into the daily routines.”

Mindfulness@Umich is a program that is available to all University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff. The sessions are 30 minutes long, flexible, and free. 
The sessions are led by a group of students and staff who have received training to lead the 30 minute sessions. They also have personal practices.The meditations are guided (which means there will be speaking throughout the meditation) and they last for 25 minutes. We typically sit in chairs. We often end the practice with a short metta or gratitude meditation. At the very end of the session, we’ll spend a few minutes talking about issues that may have arisen in your meditation, recent research, or ways to practice outside of the session.

Here’s how you can inspire your children to meditate

These days, children engage in a variety of things. Besides studies, kids are also into a number of other extracurricular activities and this leaves them with little or no time to relax and play. In order to help children to cope with the mounting pressures of being in a competitive world, parents must inspire them to meditate. Meditation has healing qualities both mentally and physically. If the habit of regular meditation is inculcated in children, then they evolve better and this helps them in the long run too.

Practicing mindfulness in the classroom at Northeastern University

On Monday, students buzzed into C. Sara L. Minard’s “Impact Investing and Social Finance” class and chatted animatedly about the Super Bowl the night before, or opened their laptops to dash off an email, or scrolled through their smartphones. It was a scene perhaps familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a university classroom. But then something different happened. Minard, executive professor in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, quietly raised her hand to signal the attention of her class and said in a conversational tone, “Let’s anchor ourselves. Feel your feet rooted into the earth, feel your wing bones on the back of your chair, and we’ll start when you hear the gong.” Her class, noisy and active a moment earlier, fell quiet, as students closed their eyes and breathed deeply. A gong sounded quietly from Minard’s phone, thus beginning the five minutes of mindfulness that Minard leads at the start of each of her classes.

 

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Meditation in Elementary, Secondary, and Higher Education

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Meditation in Elementary, Secondary, and Higher Education

Meditation and mindfulness belong in schools, period. Just like we teach kids to tie their shoes, wipe their noses, and brush their teeth after every meal, we should be teaching them about starting their day mindfully and carrying that spirit with them throughout the day.

So I continue to be encouraged as I read about new programs that school districts, individual schools, communities, and colleges and universities are initiating to teach their students how to benefit from meditation and mindfulness. Here is just a sample of what I have seen recently:

A look inside the John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue

“For many Georgetown students, busy schedules and marked-up planners are the norm. With such a fast-paced college culture, multitasking has become a necessity. Such a strong emphasis on activity leaves little room for contemplation. The John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue, however, provides a space for reflection. Aiming to promote mindfulness and meditation on campus, the center is a source of support for many students regardless of their faith or background.”

Meditation retreats offered affordably for students

“Jill Klimpel, an academic advisor for the Ohio State Departments of Political Science and Geography, strives to help students beyond their academics. Klimpel has spent the last two years working to bring affordable meditation classes to all students on campus through the Art of Living Foundation.”

Schools experimenting with meditation as an alternative to detention

“What if every time a kid acted out, he got sent to take some deep breaths, instead of detention? Well a program in Baltimore has been trying that out for the past few years, with good results. The school’s suspension rate has dropped — to zero.”

Brighton Grammar boys engage in daily mindfulness and wellness training

“Boys as young as three are engaged in daily mindfulness and wellness training at Brighton Grammar. A few times each day the boys stop classes and take some time to meditate, do yoga or listen to music.”

Chill out: Sudbury college creates mindfulness room

“Cameron Sanders sits on a bright blue bean bag chair at school. The first-year graphic design student at Cambrian College is relaxed, scrolling through his phone and waiting for this three-hour spare to be over. He’s not at home, but in a room called the Zen Den.”

 

Meditation Is What Works for You

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Meditation Is What Works for You
Our natural state as beings is centeredness and balance. The many stimuli we encounter in a typical day of living threaten to push us off center and throw us off balance.
 
Meditation and mindfulness are tools for restoring and maintaining a centered and balanced life. Whether we realize it or not, we yearn to be restored to centeredness and balance.
 
So when I hear someone say that meditation just isn’t for them, it sounds as if they are saying they do not want to be centered and balanced. Whatever habits and routines support centering and balance in our lives, those are the components of our meditation and mindfulness practice.
 
For some people, it involves sitting on a cushion with their legs crossed and their eyes closed. For others, it is walking through the woods, or coloring, or riding a playground swing, or a million other activities. Sometimes, there are several activities that may work for us.
 
The point is, meditation and mindfulness practice consists of whatever activities center and balance you. The trick is to figure out what those activities are that work best for you. There is no right way to meditate—there is only the right way for you.

Mindfulness, Meditation, and Tech

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I am apt to agree with those who believe that a lot of the technology that we have access to these days directly feed the human inclination for mindlessness. That being said, I do enjoy a bit of mindlessness most days by playing card games on my phone. Like most things, mindlessness is not harmful in moderation.

In a similar vein, it would be an overstatement to say that technology is inherently bad for living a mindful, meditative life. Increasingly, I am seeing the development of apps intended to be a support to practicing mindfulness and meditation. This blog post shares a handful that I have seen recently, beginning with the new operating system for the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Series 2 review: Water-resistance feature, mindfulness app, built-in GPS working great – the original reminds you to get up and move around; the update reminds you to take time to breathe.

This appears to be the approach that many of the apps are taking – that of the alarm clock that reminds you to be mindful, to breathe, to spend some time quietly. Many of us have found ways to do this without an app – setting the alarms on our phones and watches to go off periodically, wearing a red rubber band on our wrists, or putting visual cues where we are like to encounter them (for many years I have had a piece of paper tacked to my office wall, simply saying, “Breathe” – simple, but effective). So, if you can find an app that makes it easier to establish a routine and you don’t have to pay for it (certainly not true in the case of the Apple Watch), why not give them a try?

See also: Can an app help us find mindfulness in today’s busy high-tech world?

The Best Health & Fitness Apps for the New Apple Watch Update

The buddhify app can help you to meditate on a busy schedule – not a free app, but one that I have found personally useful for integrating meditation throughout my busy daily schedule. That is another clear objective of many of the apps – helping you shoehorn your practice into your life. I like to call that seeding: if you continually sprinkle mindfulness and meditation throughout your day, it eventually takes root and becomes an integral part of your day.

Beyond Movement: The New Wave of Wearables Track Mindfulness

3-Minute Mindfulness App

Mindfulness App

Pocket Yoga App

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The Mindfulness Backlash

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Seems like anything that garners attention in this age of unavoidable social media eventually suffers a backlash. For several years now, there has been a steady stream of articles about the benefits of mindfulness practice and meditation. More recently, there has been a growing number of missives attacking mindfulness and meditation – in other words, the backlash has begun.

I think I understand the motivation for the usual backlash – people are just sick to death of hearing about a particular topic. It happens with equal frequency for things of great importance – like presidential campaigns – and things of no importance at all – like planking.

Where these anti-waves lose me, though, is when they begin to attack the thing itself, rather than the ridiculous amount of attention that the thing has received. Which is why I’m bewildered by the backlash against mindfulness and meditation. True, they are both receiving much more attention than they used to, but not nearly as much as other things that collapse back on themselves. Worse, some people are characterizing meditation and mindfulness as ineffective, faddish, and a waste of time. Both practices can withstand a close critique, in my opinion, but much of the criticism I have seen is ill-informed and reveals a startling lack of understanding of the things they are condemning.

A typical example appeared recently under the title “In defiance of mindfulness,” as if mindfulness were somehow oppressing the author. Her opening paragraph was a jaw-dropper:

Mindfulness is so big these days that someone has even made an attempt at calculating its impact on this country’s GDP. I, however, have not seen anyone to whom mindfulness has made any substantial difference. In fact, all the confused people that I know regularly meditate and go on yoga retreats. Some even teach at them.

Let’s just skip over the hyperbole and address the notion that the author knows no one who has benefited from mindfulness. That suggests to me that she doesn’t know what mindfulness is. Of course, I’m attuned to it as a practitioner, but I see mindfulness’ benefits everywhere I look; even when I’m not looking. Her next lines confirm what I thought:

While mindfulness can calm us down and we may even decide, after too many deep breaths, that we have “found ourselves”, we then invariably go back to the real world and all its limitations. And our old circumstances stare us in the face and create the same stress and aggravation.

The most common misunderstanding about meditation and mindfulness is that their purpose is to withdraw from the world or hide from reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although meditation often takes the form of sitting in quiet, its intent is to benefit you when you’re not “on the cushion.” Mindfulness is about improving your awareness of life as it happens and, thereby, your ability to cope with the stress and aggravations of every day.

BTW, if the practice of mindfulness involves “finding ourselves” (not a phrase I’ve ever used in relation to mindfulness) it does not seek to hide from world. Rather, mindfulness is about finding yourself where you actually are, in the circumstances you actually are living in.

And here comes the message of this article. It is breathtakingly naïve to claim that all a modern individual needs is inner calm, and all else would fall into place. How can half an hour of yoga and meditation a day fix a stalled career, for example? So instead of chasing some elusive sense of self which we hope will keep us happy at all times, we should instead focus on improving our circumstances and getting rid of the problems that caused us the stress in the first place.

This paragraph breathtakingly mischaracterizes mindfulness and is further proof the author doesn’t know what it is. No one who truly understands mindfulness would make such a claim. It is a tool for living in a world of suffering, not a method for eliminating suffering. It works best, in my opinion, when integrated into your life, including any other things you do to promote physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let me answer the author’s question: A half hour of yoga or mediation a day won’t make your job any better, or increase your income, or stop someone from abusing you. It will change your outlook, the orientation of your mind, your attitude. It will equip you to deal with the suffering you encounter so that you can find the strength and motivation to seek a new, better-paying job; or to find a way to escape from an abusive situation. Mindfulness helps you cope with the difficulties of life by opening your eyes to the true source of those difficulties – it is virtually impossible to remedy difficult circumstances if you don’t truly understand their nature and what causes them.

One last item: The author refers to mindfulness as “new-age,” which is a code word for “the latest fad.” Of course, mindfulness and meditation are thousands of years old, hardly a recent development. If anything is new, it’s the author’s awareness of the practice.

It is unfair to characterize mindfulness as something it is not intended to be and then tear it down for not being that something.

Mindfulness and Work

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MindfulnessMeditation

I have written in the past about the wonderful advancement of meditation and mindfulness practice in elementary and secondary schools and in colleges and universities. The pace at which they have infiltrated the business world may be even more rapid.

The need for these practices in the workplace should be evident. Is there any environment more prone to inducing anxiety and causing stress than the job site? As adults, that is where we spend the largest portion of our waking hours. Can meditation and mindfulness make you more successful and richer? Perhaps, but they’re greatest value is enabling you to cope effectively with worry and stress at work, which lessens the dread we connect with the daily grind (thereby further lifting our spirits), and makes us healthier in mind, body, and spirit.

However, there is a tendency, I think, for mindfulness and meditation in the workplace to be treated as the latest management fad. They get lumped in with a great mass of self-help, empowerment, how-to-succeed-in-business approaches that become super-popular for a few years and then are discarded in favor of the next big thing. Meditation and mindfulness have staying power as personal tools because their efficacy and benefits are demonstrable, even though they may eventually fall by the wayside as business tools. In truth, most successful management and professional practices contain components that are applications of both mindfulness and meditation – they’re just called something else.

The following are a sampling of recent articles about the inroads that meditation and mindfulness are making in the business world.

4 Easy Ways to Be More Mindful at Work – “Bringing more mindfulness into my working days is one of the best things I can do for my enjoyment, productivity and creativity. Rather than spending time counting down the clock, allowing frustration to grow, or taking work stresses home with me, I use several techniques to create a more mindful work environment. Four powerful ways you can also incorporate mindfulness into your working days include tuning into gratitude, taking short and regular mindful breaks, journaling mindfully at the end of the day and using a mindfulness tool.”

Just Breathe: Using the Power of Mindfulness to Achieve Peace in Business – “I first started my mindfulness journey several years ago when I was a junior in college. After getting into a car accident that left me horrified over just the thought of getting into a car again, I found myself in cognitive behavioral therapy. My prescription? Meditation – a mindfulness exercise.”

The Mindful Board – “Directors facing complex corporate governance challenges can develop their capacity to think together about the implications of their decisions.”

5 ways leaders can help their teams manage stress and burnout – “Train the brain to manage chaos. Practicing mindfulness can instill useful mental habits that enhance resiliency and productivity at work and in one’s personal life. Leaders and teams who prioritize mindfulness collaborate better, control stress more effectively and improve performance, according to the report.”

Reduce constant worry while job hunting – “Brain science has demonstrated that practicing mindfulness may actually train the brain to think in other ways. For job seekers, it potentially provides welcome relief from the stress of self-defeating, anxious thoughts, such as the fear of having left out an important point in an interview or of not finding jobs at all.”

Mindfulness: An Holistic Approach to Business – “Everyone stresses at work, and that might not be your responsibility, but you can definitely account for your own stress! Be mindful. For instance, some people use meditation to improve their work performance, or excel in life. Some have even found their true calling. So how can you be mindful? Mindful in the sense of being aware of oneself but also able to focus fully on the task at hand. This encompasses emotions and thoughts, being aware of the distractions but being concentrated on the work to be done.”

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