Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Mindfulness Diaries (free ebook TODAY)

The_Mindfulness_Diaries_CoverSM

You might have heard me talking, in one form or another, about the book I’ve been working on for the past nine months. It came to “be” after returning from my first nine-day silent meditation retreat this past May….

As I was reintegrating back into my life in L.A., I felt moved to journal about my struggle to maintain my sense of compassion during the retreat (for both myself and others). And, while I was writing about my experiences, I felt a palpable and unexpected sense of purpose—so strong, in fact, that I was, literally, struck by sudden tears of gratitude and joy when I realized that I wasn’t just writing about my experiences for me…. I was writing about them to share with others.

In 20+ years of journal writing, I’d never experienced anything quite like that moment.

Nine months later, I’ve officially set up my very own small press, HOWD Media. And The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat is now officially available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook. It’s been a long road, but I’ve SO enjoyed the journey… And now I’m very excited to be sharing the result with you! 🙂

My marketing strategy is to roll the book out slowly. So, before I start promoting it to the masses, I’m offering the Kindle ebook for FREE to friends and supporters. This free ebook promotion on Amazon begins TODAY (Monday, Feb 24th) and ends at midnight (PST) TOMORROW (Tuesday, Feb 25th). You can download your free ebook by visiting the book’s page on Amazon here.

Your feedback is incredibly valuable—and greatly appreciated. So, once you’ve read the book, please consider writing a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads to help spread the word (you’ll also find links to do so in the back of the ebook)….The more reviews a book gets the more successful it has the chance to be!

Here’s a short blurb:

The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat

Jennifer Howd had been building a mindfulness practice for two and a half years before taking on the challenge of her first nine-day silent meditation retreat. In this debut memoir in “The Mindfulness Diaries” series, she chronicles the humorous—and often harrowing—adventures of the dueling inner voices that emerge in the silence: one intent on focusing on the seemingly negative aspects of her experiences, and the other on helping her see the positivity that can come from them.

Illuminating for those who are new to mindfulness and resonant for those with established practices, The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat is a vulnerable, touching, playful peek behind the curtain into the mind of a woman learning how to befriend herself.

Thank you so much for your support—and please feel free to pass this promotion along to any of YOUR friends….

Happy reading!

With Gratitude,
jennifer

Liminality

Seed

Last week, I wrote about “personal space” and the various ways I find myself needing it. It’s a topic I think about often. And, apparently, I’m not alone…. Several of you reached out to me, sharing the importance of finding and creating personal space in your own lives, as well.

One reader who saw the post on LinkedIn’s Mindfulness Group expressed his enthusiasm about the value of personal space and brought my attention to a term I’d never heard before—“liminal space.” He was introduced to this concept when in recovery from his divorce.

“Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a “liminal state”) and in the anthropological theories of ritual….The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. It is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.” (Definition from Askdefine.com)

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to this space. Hell, I feel like I’ve been experiencing one long liminal space for years (beginning when my mom passed away in 2001).

In his essay, Liminal Spaces and Transformation, Robert D. Rossel, Ph.D. captures the feeling of liminality and describes how mindfulness can be especially helpful during these periods.

“Sometimes life is a lot like this. We get kicked in the gut. Nothing works. We can’t even tell what is up and what is down. All of our familiar and cherished ways of making sense of the world have flown out the window. We feel completely in the dark….As I look back over my life it is usually such times that are associated with major life transitions. Is that true for you too? Isn’t this the dying that has to take place for us to learn new ways to see?

In Buddhism there is something called “the middle way.” In the middle way there are no reference points. We chose to let go of habitual responses and the usual attachments and things to grasp and see in the world. Instead, we embrace uncertainty and become more and more curious about a world where things can be both up and down, good and bad, bright and dark at the same time.

If we can practice resting in the middle, we learn new ways of orienting in our world that draw on other senses we didn’t even know we had. As we exercise these new senses—intuition, beginner’s mind, faith – the world takes on a new shape and we can see things with new eyes. This gives us a way to stay centered in the tumult, to see possibilities where before we might have been mired in despair. Above all, it gives us ways of being with those feelings that nag at us most insistently when we feel caught in those painful liminal spaces—loneliness, boredom, anxiety.

It seems so basic to our conditioning that we seek some form of resolution from painful emotions. We feel more secure in the familiar world of praise or blame, victory or defeat, feeling good or feeling bad than in the liminal world where we sit with what we feel and do not rush to resolution. When we cultivate different practices that allow us to rest in the middle, we discover over time a growing ability to relax into the unfamiliar and eventually turn our usual fear driven patterns upside down. That, to me, is the essence of transformation.”

Life’s in-betweens can sometimes feel endless—a long chain of one liminal space after the other. Yet, it’s these in-between spaces that create the opportunities for us to grow and evolve—to shed the previous ways of being that no longer serve us and to mindfully embody the person we endeavor to become.

Personal Space

space

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “personal space” lately… How it’s not just a physical thing—how we can also experience personal space in an emotional and mental way, too…. I’ve come to realize how important it is to my well being that I get hefty doses of all three varieties. When I’m getting “enough personal space,” I feel comfortable and at ease.

And when I don’t get enough of it—I feel edgy. Suffocated. Compressed. Panicky.

I’m a tall woman (6’0 to be precise). So, I’ve always been acutely aware of my personal space in the physical sense—especially not having enough of it….My pants and shirts are often too short, and the beds I sleep in—never long enough; cars rarely have enough leg room for me; tables are often too short to cross my legs underneath…. And the list goes on.

I grew up in the middle of the woods in rural NH, where I played in the vast expanse of woods behind our house. I had ample personal space back then….I could run around in every direction—with nothing but birch and pine trees in my path. The forest was dense. But it felt like an endless expanse. I never felt constricted.

Inside my home was another story, though… Sure, the house I lived in with my mom and dad was amply sized…. But, a palace wouldn’t have provided enough space for me to comfortably sit with the tension that hung between my parents most days. Looking back on it now, it’s no wonder I spent most of my time outside in those woods.

When I left home for college, I ended up in NYC, where I continued to live for the next 16 years. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I’d inadvertently swapped one sensorially claustrophobic environment for another—this one bombarding me from the outside.

Around the 14 year mark of living in that city, I remember thinking to myself…

I’m a ball of anxiety—neurotic beyond belief. But, I don’t think this is who I am at my core. I don’t think this is ME

I saw how I’d become a product of my environment. The city became a part of me because I never gave myself any space from it, and my nervous system just couldn’t take it any longer. I needed to be somewhere where I didn’t hear, see, smell, touch—or sense anyone else. I needed “personal space.” In every sense of the word.

So I moved to Los Angeles.

Yes, I’m aware this might not seem like the anecdote to sensory overload. But LA seemed like the equivalent of moving back to “the country” at the time.

Reflecting on it now, it makes perfect sense that mindfulness would end up resonating so loudly with me. One of the core elements of the practice is about intentionally creating (and gently holding) emotional and mental space for ourselves.

When I sit down to meditate every day, I’m giving myself the amount of space I need to “be.”

When I sit down to meditate, I’m giving myself the personal space I need to be ME.

(image from http://www.toonpool.com)

Trust the process.

Trust

Our first UCLA Certificate in Mindfulness Facilitation practicum was this past weekend. And I’m still processing all it had to offer… There are 36 of us. From all walks of life and from all over the country (and a few from outside the country). Most have previous experience as facilitators. Some of us don’t.

I’m one of those people.

I think the biggest thing that’s come up for me since the practicum ended is that I’m finding myself somewhat obsessed with analyzing my mindfulness practice—deconstructing my meditations and my ways of being throughout the day in an effort to try and “figure out” how to effectively communicate this practice to others… I also notice that I’m feeling somewhat resentful and mistrusting of the facilitation training process—concerned that the act of becoming a mindfulness facilitator will somehow take me away from my own mindfulness practice.

I’m also watching myself getting caught up in my ambition to be “successful” at this new undertaking, and I’m feeling a strong desire to “do it perfectly.” I fear these sides of myself might take over and that I might lose sight of why I practice/why I wanted to facilitate to begin with…

And the subject of mindfulness, itself, has become somewhat all encompassing since the practicum…. While I was certainly interested in the topic prior to our weekend, my thirst for expanding my knowledge and grasping the subject now seems unquenchable. There’s an addictive, grasping quality to it that’s related to my ambition on some level, I’m sure… I also sense a deep-rooted fear that if I don’t “know/understand” everything about the subject, then I’d be an imposter facilitating it…

Yet, all this is happening while I’m also acutely aware that I can’t “successfully” facilitate mindfulness unless I embody it. I suppose this reminder is where the strength of my practice is shining through…. Like the breath in meditation, my awareness of my potential pitfalls is the anchor that’s helping me continue to come back to my practice (and to my truth)…. Trusting this process is challenging for me.

But I’m up for the challenge.