Mindfulness Mashup: Seeing

I’ve been facilitating a meditation group at the Silver Lake Public Library and recently came to realize the very act of prepping for each session is a meditation unto itself. How meta! ;)

Each week, I browse through various mindfulness books and websites and pull related quotes and/or passages on a topic that I find inspiring in some way to share with the group. We then meditate together, and I wrap our session with a relevant mindfulness exercise for those who might be interested in exploring the week’s topic further.

Last week, it occurred to me that the material I curate for the group might also be of interest to the folks reading this blog. So, I’ve decided to start sharing it here with you in a regular series called, “Mindfulness Mashups.”

The first installment of Mindfulness Mashups is on the topic of “seeing.” More topics to come…

Meditation Mashup: Seeing

 

eye

“The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.” -Marcel Proust

From Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“We see what we want to see, not what is actually before our eyes. We look but we may not apprehend or comprehend […]. One way or another, our minds will often obscure our capacity to see clearly. For this reason, if we wish to experience life fully, and take hold of it fully, we will need to cultivate intimacy with and train ourselves to see through or behind the appearance of things—the stream of our own thoughts, which colors everything in the sensory domain […]. We may have to tune our seeing just as we tune an instrument, to increase its sensitivity, it’s range, it’s clarity, it’s empathy. We can say the goal would be to see things as they actually are, not how we would like them to be or fear them to be, or only what we are socially conditioned to see.”

clarVision

From The Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck:

We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes… Our looking is perfected every day – but we see less and less. Never has it been more urgent to speak of seeing… We are on-lookers, spectators….We are ‘subjects’ that look at ‘objects.’ Quickly we stick labels on all that is, labels that stick once – and then for all. By these labels we recognize everything but no longer see anything.”

Suggested Practice: The Color Blue

 

blue

From How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays

Become aware of the color blue wherever it appears in your environment. Look not just for the obvious instances, such as the sky, but also for subtle appearances and for all variations of blue.

You’ll notice that you start to notice blue everywhere, and it might have a certain pop to it.

Bonus “Seeing” Practice:

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For an added “seeing” practice this week, check out my found playing cards collection online…

Several years ago, a colleague of mine showed me a collection of playing cards he’d found on the streets of NYC throughout the years. And, within days after he showed me his collection—I started finding playing cards on the streets, too!

I’ve since photographed every playing card I’ve ever found (in all corners of the world)!… After reading this—maybe you’ll start finding them, too!

Do you have a topic you’d like to see as a future Mindfulness Mashup?… Leave a comment in the comments section below or drop me an email.

Feeling My Worth

Descartes

It’s probably no surprise that I’m a (recovering) control freak. My go-to impulse is to try and shape the outcome of pretty much, um… everything by inserting and/or imposing my will over the situation. It’s an assertive way of being that has served me well to an extent (especially in the “business” world)—but living this way is, well, pretty dang exhausting.

And I’m over it.

The good news is that something finally seems to be shifting for me around this. And I’m fairly certain it’s largely due to the three month long (kick-ass!) group coaching program I’ve been taking with Chela Davison.

My intention for joining the group was to work on shifting my core belief structure around my self worth. It’s tough to stand in my power when my power chord is rarely plugged in… So, the first practice Chela suggested I do was to visualize myself sometime in the future, allowing myself to open up to receiving and listening to whatever message the older, wiser, “future me” has to say.

And, I totally tried this. I swear. I gave it my all. But, no matter how hard I tried…

I just couldn’t do it.

To begin with, I couldn’t even picture my future self—which was a brow-furrowing surprise to me because I’m constantly using my mind’s eye to visualize all the time. But, not only was I unable to conjure up a picture of my future self—I kept catching my mind trying to make things up for my future self to say because my mind didn’t want to stay open to “blindly” receiving something it didn’t perceive as having created, itself (too scary!). It kinda felt like I was catching myself trying to subconsciously cheat on my homework.

Epic fail.

So, I reported my “results” back to Chela. And she suggested I try a different practice this time.

“The contraction you’re experiencing is mental, and your tendency is to exist solely up in your head… So, try accessing the feeling of receptivity through your body, instead. Make a safe place in your home that has a boundary around it where you feel protected. Then go through each body part, contracting and then relaxing it— paying close attention to the sensation of release. Then throughout your day, also practice receiving through the senses—taking in sounds, scents, tastes and sights—and feeling them coming in to you.”

OK—this is something I can do, I thought to myself…But what exactly does this have to do with helping me shift my core belief structure around my self worth? As if reading my mind (which I’m pretty sure she was!), Chela immediately piped back up.

“-And the reason I’m suggesting this exercise is because you’ll never be able to truly know your value if you’re not in the practice of being receptive and feeling your body. If you’re not open and present to what it feels like to feel and root your value in your body—then your mental idea of what your value is will only ever be a fleeting objectification. We objectify ourselves so much in this culture.”

It took a few days for that gem to sink in. But, holy heck, did it land with me. And deep.

All the body-focussed mindfulness work I’ve been intuitively drawn to doing lately has been leading me toward a more integrated way of being. On a conscious level, I had no idea my difficulties with being receptive and connecting with my body and senses had anything to do with my bouts of low self esteem. But now I can totally see it. And not only can I see it.

I can feel it.

Transformation Lines

IAM

As an artist (and perennial student of life), I’m constantly looking for ways to grow—and I love taking classes and workshops when my time and budget allow. This past spring, I had the pleasure of taking Jack Grapes’ Method Writing class here in Los Angeles. It was the first writing class I’d ever taken that focussed solely on process—not product. And, wow, was it helpful…. I learned so much about how to put pen to paper, “go with the flow,” and just “trust the process.”

Of course, there’s a great metaphor for life in there, too…

One of the exercises Jack had us do involved something he calls “massaging the transformation line.” A “transformation line” is essentially a personal statement that has the word “I” in it, and involves a self-discovery. The object of “massaging” the transformation line is to delve deeper, with each succeeding transformation line deepening the original one—almost as if the writer were a detective working backwards to arrive at the truth.

Here’s a poem I wrote that came out of the transformation line exercise. I don’t know how close I came to arriving at “the Truth”—but it’s certainly an honest attempt to get there…. ;)

“DO YOU?”

I seek.
I want.
I grasp.
I cling.

Searching for solutions.
For revolutions.

A resolution
to my evolution.

But it never ends.

I can’t remain still.

There is no conclusion.
Stillness is an illusion.

I am an illusion.

I have no idea what I am.

But society tells me.
My parents have told me.
Self help books.
The media.
Pornography.
Advertisements.
The Church.

They all tell me.

And part of me believes them.

The wounded,
lonely,
broken,
insecure
part of me
believes them.

Craves them.
Needs them.

…Or, do I?

Let’s Get It Back, Together

dance

I mentioned that I’ve been working with a bodyworker to help me heal some chronic neck and back pain. About a month ago, we were discussing some ways I might consider exercising, since jogging (my past go-to) is out of the running for a while… He asked if I’d ever considered ecstatic dancing. My eyes rolled, and I immediately burst out laughing. “Hah! God, No…”

Of course, I immediately saw the judgment—I’m not the “type” to ecstatic dance. I don’t wear long flowing outfits, and I don’t identify as a “hippie.”

My bodyworker just looked at me with a silently knowing smirk—a look I often see on Kate’s face every time I find myself connecting with anything remotely “Woo-woo” and yet continue to insist it’s complete bunk.

“Ok, ok… I’ll think about it…”

Cut to: my latest silent meditation retreat. We were in the midst of one of our small group check-in’s, and one of the group members mentioned that he regularly attends ecstatic dance events in Los Angeles. Hmmmm… I noted this at the time—and then made a point to follow up and ask him about it at the end of the retreat after the silence had broken.

“Oh yeah, ecstatic dance – it’s amazing! Such a great way to connect with yourself. And the nicest group of people you’ll ever meet.” 

When I got back to LA, I investigated one of the websites he recommended…. Consciously choosing to look passed the rapturous marketing aesthetic…(this was, after-all “ecstatic” dance, I reminded myself), I noted the groups’s monthly gathering coming up that Sunday. So I marked my calendar and decided to give it a try.

When Sunday arrived, I hopped into my car to head to the location. Excited to be connecting with music again—something I hadn’t consciously done in forever—I felt the urge to unearth an old album of my favorite CDs from the 90’s. Leafing through the book, Live’s “Mental Jewelry” caught my eye. So, I popped it in my car’s cd player—and off I went.

Two songs into the album, as I’m about to get on the freeway ramp, I’m singing along to a song I can’t remember the title of—and BAM. A waterfall of tears hits me out of the blue.

“Operation Spirit” 
(The Tyranny of Tradition)

Heard a lot of talk about the ocean

Heard a lot of talk about the sea

Heard a lot of talk about a lot of things

Never meant that much to me.

Heard a lot of talk about my spirit

Heard a lot of talk about my soul

But I decided that anxiety and pain

Were better friends

So I let it go.

Did you let it go?

Let’s get it back

Let’s get it back, together.

That part about turning away from my spirit and my soul and turning toward anxiety and pain—yah…that. It struck a chord. And hard. Because there was a time in my life when I used to believe in—and feel connected to—something greater than myself: Spirit, The Universe, God, whatever you want to call it…. But then things changed. I let media influence my opinion of what it meant to be someone who “believed” in something greater than myself—it isn’t “cool” to have faith; “Intelligent” people don’t have faith—they’re supposed to “believe” in “facts” and “science” and things that can be “proven,” etc… So, I decided being spiritual and having faith in anything that wasn’t rational didn’t fit me anymore. And, I let it go. Enter: anxiety and pain.

Contemplating all this, it occurred to me… The depression I’ve been teetering in and out of lately—sure, there’s been specific issues I’ve been facing and working through—but at its core, it feels like it might just be a crisis of faith.

I’ve been noticing how the idea of faith has been popping into my thoughts a great deal lately. Wondering what exactly it means to “have” it… Why I always feel so uncomfortable with the idea of it… And then it showed up in a big way during my latest retreat. I experienced some serious doubt during the first few days of the retreat—not seeing the “results” I was expecting right away…But as soon as I recognized the doubt, allowed myself to let go of my expectations, and let myself just BE in the moment—well, that’s when the magic started happening (of course).

And that’s when I realized I truly believe in the retreat process. I’ve been through enough retreats now to see similar outcomes during (and after) every retreat—despite those outcomes not always showing up when and how I expect. It’s the same with my mindfulness practice. I can see how I’ve grown to believe in it because I know it works. Even when I can’t see that it’s working. Even when I don’t feel like it is… That’s “faith,” right?

Maybe I’m closer to getting it back than I realize….

A quick footnote to this week’s post that some of you might find interesting—I Googled the band, “Live” when I got home from the ecstatic dance experience (which was beautiful by the way)—and I found out that the lyrics to their “Mental Jewelry” album were largely influenced by philosopher, J. Krishnamurti (not related to hare krishna in any way). I thought this was interesting because I have the Krishnamurti book, “Total Freedom,” on my shelf at home—a fairly recent addition to my mindfulness library that I’ve been savoring. It’s so funny how things come full circle…

The Mosaic of Life

MosaicWork-Trencadis-Gaudi-

We recently had our third practicum for the UCLA Certificate in Mindfulness Facilitation program I’ve been taking—and diversity was on the list of topics we covered. We were asked to write a paper about the topic in preparation for the practicum, and I noticed an immediate sense of dread when I sat down to write it—followed by some major resistance.

It’s a sticky subject.

When I think about diversity, I flash to my “sheltered” childhood—which was utterly devoid of it. I grew up in a predominantly-Caucasian, upper middle class, quaint, rural town in New Hampshire. Monochromatic white saltbox Colonials lined the center of town, offset by swaths of apple orchards and strawberry fields.

Every harvest season, a line of rickety, lime-green painted school buses would roll into town. And I remember staring at those buses, feeling this weird fascination with their “otherness” back then. I later found out they were packed with Jamaican migrant workers hired to work the orchards and fields.

Reflecting back on this now, I feel a sharp knot in my left side, just below my ribs. My breathing is shallow. My brow furrowed. I feel ashamed. Sad.

And now, opening deeper to these feelings, I’m hearing my father’s voice echoing in my mind. I don’t remember him ever commenting on the migrant workers—he always just drove passed them in silence (without even a nod of recognition). But, occasionally, we’d get out of our small town bubble and take a family drive into Boston—the “big” city. The environmental palette shifted with each passing mile, gradually diversifying the further we drove from town—from the color of the landscape to the color of the people.

And the color of Dad’s behavior always shifted along with it.

“Lock your door,” he’d demand in a firm (yet slightly panicked tone) the minute it was clear we’d entered the city. His grip on the steering wheel would tighten. His face, redden. Every other minute, he’d grumble “Massachusetts driver!” when he got cut off or couldn’t pull into a lane he needed to be in.

And every time he saw an African American male driving a nice car, he’d point and announce, “drug dealer.”

Ignoring my father’s slurs, I never thought about how they might have affected me. But now that I’m deliberately looking… I see the residue is there. His words ingrained in my cells—impossible to expunge.

I want to pretend like I haven’t been affected by my father’s view of the world. But I have. Even though I reject it, I still feel it in the most subtle ways. To this day, I still hear him saying “drug dealer” in my mind when I’m driving. The thought appears. His voice ringing in my ears. I recognize it as not my own.

But it still breaks my heart.

Contemplating all this now, there’s a quote from Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in Our Buddhist Communities that comes to mind:

“I want to walk my Dharma talk and sit the way I live: trusting in the interdependence of ALL things (including all cultures and beings) and knowing that the wholeness we seek comes from including all the pieces of the beautiful mosaic of life.”

The deeper I dive into my mindfulness practice, the more I see (and feel) the wholeness of our collective existence—and how accepting “otherness” and diversity is key to seeing the complete picture of ourselves. Perhaps some people don’t want to see themselves completely.

But I do.

Moving Forward From Retreat

Sweep

I recently returned from a 7-day silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Ranch in the (stunning) mountains of northern New Mexico. And I wish I could report that it’s been all bliss and rainbows ever since returning back to life in Los Angeles.

But that would be a lie.

The truth is, as I’m writing this, I’m teetering on the edge of falling back into the depression I was mired in before I left. I can sense it right there in front of me. A poem by Portia Nelson comes to mind:

Autobiography in Five Chapters

1. I walk down the street

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in. I am lost… I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

2. I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

3. I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in…it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

4. I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

5. I walk down another street.

 

Perhaps you recognize these patterns in your own life?… I’m smack-dab in the middle of stanza #3, and I feel like it’s finally time to make the quantum leap to #4.

But I’m encountering some serious resistance.

This past retreat unearthed some deep insights for me—things I’ve “known” on a certain level, but haven’t wanted to face… I’ve survived just fine by sweeping these things under the rug all these years—by looking the other direction…But it’s time to “level up.”

The funny/annoying/amazing thing about my mindfulness practice is that the things I’ve swept under the rug all my life have, in due time, started making themselves known. And, another funny/annoying/amazing thing is, once I’ve unearthed an issue and start seeing it in plain sight—it’s nearly impossible for me to try and “un-see” or ignore it again.

Before I left for this latest retreat, I mentioned a lot of Shit got kicked up from the body work I’ve been doing to heal my chronic physical pain issue. I wasn’t clear exactly what was causing the emotional pain. The malaise felt general—like a heap of Crap all tangled in a giant steaming pile in the middle of my metaphorical living room floor. But, while sitting in silence during the retreat, the individual issues began to sort themselves out—making themselves more and more clear.

And now I sit here just staring at it all. Separate piles of previously ignored issues splayed out in front of me. And I feel paralyzed. Despite seeing the individual issues for what they are—every fiber of my being wants to sweep them all back under the rug and pretend like I don’t see a thing.

The brink of depression I’m feeling now feels like the sadness of not being able to ignore the mess any longer. There’s a huge part of me that’s wanting to throw a tantrum at the thought of how much effort it’s going to take to change my behavior and face (let alone heal) these wounded parts of myself. There’s also a big part of me that’s feeling relieved that they’re all finally out in the open. Such is the life of a spiritual warrior.

So right now I’m just doing my best to BE with myself. To get used to seeing these issues and not trying to sweep them under the carpet anymore.

This, of course, is where the “real” work begins… 

 

Under Deconstruction

deconstruction

I’ve been feeling blue for the past few weeks. Going through yet another big shift in my life—working with a body worker to heal severe chronic neck and upper back pain that was caused by a sexual trauma 15 years ago. 

And while the physical pain has significantly subsided since I started this work—my emotional pain has skyrocketed.

The correlation is no coincidence, I’m sure.

Up until this evening, every time I’ve sat down to blog about this journey, I’ve felt blocked—an endless parade of stops and starts. Beginnings with no clear endings. Start overs.

Delete.

Repeat.

And then earlier tonight, I finally found enough clarity to finish the entire post. I felt sufficiently “good” about what I’d written, and I was ready to hit “publish.” But when I clicked “save draft,” WordPress decided to do just the opposite. The post evaporated into cyber space.

And I was left with nothing.

Of course, part of me wants to stay up all night to try and painstakingly reproduce every word. But the other part of me is telling me it’s all quite poetic, given the current state of things. This part is also telling me the compassionate thing to do for myself is to allow myself to feel the frustration/anger/sadness and then to let it go. And go to bed.

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

As is the nature of everything, I know that whatever emotional pain I’m experiencing (on all levels) will change. I don’t have “this too shall pass” tattooed on my wrist for nothing. ;)  I’m also blessed to have the world’s most compassionate and nurturing partner by my side to comfort me during this ride (seriously, she’s THE. BEST).

And I’m sure when I get back from my upcoming 7-day silent meditation retreat later this month, I’ll have loads to share. In the meantime—if the theme of pain resonates in any way, you might be interested in checking out what I wrote about my last silent meditation retreat

Onward and upward (and inward)….

BE Well,

jennifer

A Bug’s Life

bug

As a secular mindfulness student at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), I often attend their Tuesday evening “community practice” facilitated by MARC’s Director of Mindfulness Education, Diana Winston. The gatherings consist of 30 minutes of group meditation, and then Diana gives a short talk and facilitates a discussion about the week’s topic. It’s a relaxing and accepting atmosphere, and I always leave feeling rejuvenated and connected with both myself—and the like-minded souls in our community.

Last week, Diana began a series on “The Five Mindfulness Ethical Trainings” or “The METs” as she calls them—and she prefaced the talk by saying the trainings are based on the five Buddhist Precepts that have been adapted in a secular context. She also made it clear that her intention for sharing these trainings was not to say that we need to follow them—but to suggest we contemplate them and see where our individual edges lie for each.

The Five Mindfulness Ethical Trainings (METs) are:

1. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect life.

2. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to only take what is offered to me. 

3. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect relationships and be wise with my sexuality.

4. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to speak wisely.

5. Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, I undertake the commitment to protect the clarity of my mind by being wise in what I consume and how I use intoxicants. 

Diana’s first talk focussed on MET #1: Protecting Life. And I found the topic serendipitous because just the night before, I’d gone to great lengths to safely capture and release a behemoth house fly that’d been buzzing around my face while I was cooking dinner that evening. But prior to sitting there listening to Diana’s talk, I hadn’t given the fact that I didn’t just automatically swat the fly much thought. Despite feeling severely annoyed by its’ presence, it just never occurred to me to try and kill it. Instead, I remember my mind reeling for ways to quickly catch and escort it safely outside before the cat got to it first—which, btw, I miraculously managed to do via a nearby mason jar.

Further contemplating the topic, I’ve also noticed that I take definite care not to step on bugs when I spot them these days (both inside and outside the house). I even let spiders “just be.” But this hasn’t always been the case. Before my mindfulness practice, I had little to no respect for insects. I never thought twice about swatting, stepping on or smooshing them when I saw one. It’s just what I did.

But as my practice has deepened over the years, my reactivity to bugs has lessened. I don’t automatically squeel or jump when I see one anymore, nor do I automatically reach out to slap ‘em with the nearest shoe. Within the spaciousness of nonreactivity, I’ve been able to observe bugs as they are—tiny little creatures who are just trying to get by doing what they do. But despite the compassion I’ve come to show bugs, I still eat meat. And, under certain circumstances, I also believe in abortion and euthanasia—so there’s that, too…

So, where does this leave my relationship with MET #1? I guess, for me, “preserving life” isn’t such a black and white issue… And, as I’m finding with most things these days—finding a middle way seems to be the answer (it’s not always easy, though).

This week, join me in contemplating MET #1. What are your thoughts on undertaking the commitment to preserving life?

Finding Faith In-Between

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I recently finished reading a memoir that struck a pretty big chord. It’s about an early 40-something year old woman who’s filled with questions about life and is searching for a sense of faith amidst them all. Perhaps you can relate to this, too?

The memoir I’m referring to is titled, Devotion, and it’s written by Dani Shapiro. Here’s a particularly resonant paragraph:

“My various rituals—the yoga, meditation, thinking, reading, Torah study—these were disciplines. They had become, to some degree, habit. But it was in the space around these rituals that Faith resided. It was in the emptiness, the pause between actions, the stillness when one thing was finished but the next had not yet begun. Paradoxically, this is where effort came in, because it was so hard to be empty. To pause. To be still—not leaning forward, not falling back. Steady in the present—not even waiting. Just being. Could I just drive the car? Just cook dinner? Just walk the dogs in the front meadow and take in the rustling trees, the chirping critters in the distance? Why was it so difficult? So scary? Why does something that should be effortless require so much effort?”

That last line really sums it up for me… And it might seem like an oxymoron, but doing nothing is one of the hardest things for me to “do.” The pauses between actions often seem interminable. Relaxing in the lulls—a gargantuan feat. My mind always wants me to be doing doing doing. And it’s exhausting.

Contemplating this, I can see how it’s hard for me to trust that things are going to work out the way I intend them to work out without constantly doing something to try and ensure that they do. But I’ve come to realize that there’s no real way I can ensure every outcome of my efforts—no matter how much I do to try (which is related to the post I wrote last month about “stirring the pot“). And I’m guessing this is where “faith” comes in…

Because learning how to relax in the lulls involves having faith that things will unfold the way I intend—and (more importantly) it also means having faith in myself that I’ll be able to handle it if (or when) they don’t.

Tranquility du Jour!

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I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on Kimberly Wilson’s “Tranquility du Jour” podcast, where we chatted about mindfulness, meditation, retreat experiences—and of course, tranquility! Click on the image above for a link to the podcast online. Enjoy! :)