Archives: mindfulness

Time to Reframe?…

Frame

As a multi-disciplinary artist who’s constantly in one phase or another of the creative process, I’m used to the point at which fear rears it’s gnarly head and roars ferociously in my face. It tends to show up right before I’m about to share a new creation with someone outside my inner circle. And, in the past (prior to my regular mindfulness practice…) this more often than not would halt any further forward momentum. I’d either stop working on the particular project, or I’d end up sabotaging it in someway.

Thankfully, I’ve learned how to mindfully persevere through challenges and keep marching my projects forward. My meditation practice has helped me build the necessary “muscles” to sit through the soul quaking fears that arise—riding them out and letting them move through me without destroying my work or myself in the process. And I’ve made it through this phase in my creative process enough times now that I didn’t think it was possible it could stop me again.

But the second I start getting cocky and stop paying close attention—I always get knocked on my ass.

Which is exactly what happened a few weeks ago…

I was deep into preparations for my solo show debut in the Hollywood Fringe Festival – 10 days away from opening night, when the fear kicked in. But this time, it wasn’t just fear. It was soul-quaking, debilitating terror. Nightmares for a week straight—all about loss of control and not knowing how to get myself out of life-threateningly dangerous situations. I’d wake up with crippling anxiety every morning, petrified of a judging audience doing nothing but seeing my every mistake and ripping both me and my show to shreds. No matter what I did, I wasn’t able to shake my fear.

And then, I had a dream in which I was faced (once again…) with the eminent threat of death. In the dream, an omniscient voice said to me “you have the power to change the way you’re experiencing what’s happening that will change everything for you.” Still panicked, I shouted back to the voice, “But I don’t know HOW!…”

When I woke up, the voice stayed with me—its’ words resonating throughout my day. Maybe there’s a way I can shift my point of view and reframe the way I’ve been seeing this upcoming solo show performance…

Later that day, I was chatting with a dear friend and fellow mindfulness geek, and it occurred to me that, instead of seeing the audience as a group of critics out to judge and scrutinize every mistake I make—I could choose to see them as a benign group of supporters happily cheering me on and wishing me success, instead.

As soon as I saw the choice I had in the situation, something immediately opened up for me. I was able to connect to my role as a creator and reframe my experience from the point of view of sharing the gift of my story—a gift the audience wants to receive.

My fear then shifted to excitement and joy. And it happened in an instant.

From that point forward—my anxiety evaporated, the nightmares ceased, and I felt genuinely excited about sharing myself and my work with the world.

I then consciously chose to focus my attention on this excitement (that part was key). Sure, my mind darted back to the terror and fear every once in a while. But I was able to catch myself, let the fear move through me—and then bring my attention back to the joy and my intention of creating a positive relationship with the audience, instead.

Looking back on it now, I can see how what I did was simply apply a variation of the mindfulness meditation “technique” to my difficult situation—consciously disengaging from the challenging thought (or negative mindset, in this case…), letting the thought/mindset dissipate, and then redirecting my attention back to a more helpful anchor (the idea of giving the gift of my story to the audience).

The voice in my dream was right. I really do have the power to change my experiences. Now the real trick is remembering I have the power!… 😉

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of other like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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A Tip for Staying Grounded (From Sharon Salzberg)

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I recently had the pleasure of attending a half-day retreat with renown meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. Sharon is one of the foremothers of mindfulness meditation in the west (and I encourage you to explore her many books and offerings on mindfulness if positively moved to do so).

Anyway!… During the retreat, Sharon took questions from the practitioners in the audience. One woman stood up and talked about how living in the city was so challenging for her—that every time she goes out, she feels bombarded by the constant stream of energy and activity. It inevitably knocks her off-center, and she wanted to know if Sharon had any advice.

Sharon mentioned the importance of grounding ourselves in situations when we’re feeling off balance (especially important for those of us who are highly sensitive). And then she said something that I didn’t quite understand at the time, but it felt significant, so I wrote it down…

“When you’re feeling off balance, see if you can feel your feet from your feet.”

I’m a highly sensitive person and can find myself easily effected by external factors like crowded streets, bustling stores, etc… I’ve written here before about my challenges with getting out of my head and more into my body, so I found the phrase, “feel your feet from your feet” sticking with me throughout the rest of the day. I had a feeling the practice would be good for me—but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant… In search of some clarity, I approached Sharon after her closing words.

“I have a tendency to live so much in my head, and you said something earlier that caught my attention. ‘Feel your feet from your feet.’ It feels like this could be a helpful exercise for me… Can you expand on that instruction a bit?…”

Sharon went on to tell me how, when she was living in India and studying with Sayadaw U Pandita, she was, similarly, finding it challenging to stay connected with her body. She asked Sayadaw for help with this, and he simply asked her, “what did it feel like to drink your tea this morning?” Sharon tried to connect with her experience, but she couldn’t remember what it felt like.

“Okay,” Sayadaw said.  “Then go home and feel what it feels like to drink your tea.”

So the next morning, when Sharon was drinking her tea, she paid careful attention to her experience—the feeling of the warm, smooth mug in her hand, watching the steam evaporating from the surface of the liquid, the sweet smell of jasmine.

Then she went back to visit Sayadaw to report her experience.

Sayadew welcomed her, but when Sharon started to report what she’d felt when she drank her tea that morning, Sayadew interrupted her.

“Never mind that… What did washing your face feel like this morning?…”

Sharon smiled at me as she concluded her story. “I couldn’t answer because I hadn’t paid attention to the experience of washing my face. I was only focussing on the tea.”

And that’s when it clicked—I had the proverbial “aha” moment—but I wanted to make sure I was understanding her correctly…

“…Because Sayadaw was always asking you about a different experience than what you thought he was going to ask you, at some point you just started continuously checking in with your body throughout your day and started to become more aware of how ALL your experiences felt—not just what you thought about them… “

She nodded. So, I continued…

“And, what you’re saying is that if we do this regularly over time, this somatic form of gathering information through our senses starts connecting us more intimately with our experiences because we’re not filtering everything solely through our minds. And when we’re more connected to the actual experiences, as opposed to what our minds THINK about the experiences—when we’re feeling our feet FROM our feet—then we can more easily stay grounded in the experience of the moment and not get knocked off balance by what our minds might be THINKING about the experience.”

“Exactly…” She shook my hand with a smile as I thanked her and stepped aside. Feeling the pressure of the ground beneath my feet as I slowly walked back to my car in the crowded Santa Monica streets that day.

I’ve been working with this practice ever since. And, wow, has it made an impact.

Join me?…

Can you feel your feet from your feet? Do you have a tip or trick that’s helpful for connecting with your body to help you stay grounded? Share your experiences in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you!

Tight Spots

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I recently had my first MRI (due to an infection in my arm from a kitten bite—more about that in a future post, I’m sure)… And the MRI wasn’t a fun experience. But, wow….What a great opportunity to observe my mind! Funny how things that trigger us often prove to be our biggest teachers.

In her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron writes:

“When life is uncomfortable, when we’re highly agitated and don’t know where to turn, that’s the most difficult time to stay present. But that’s also the time when doing so could be the most rewarding. It’s a challenge to practice staying present when we’re despondent or distressed or overwhelmed, when our backs are against the wall. But right then, when we’re in a tight spot, we have the ideal situation for practice. We can do something radical: accept suffering as part of our home ground as human beings, and relate to it straightforwardly.”

That part about tight spots being the ideal situations for practice?… Uncomfortable, but oh-so-true. Here’s my Facebook post immediately following my MRI:

I’d like a gold star for having just survived an hour and a half in the tiny, tunnel-like MRI machine sans earplugs – even though the sound was akin to jack hammering an inch away from my ears…. AND I’m INSANELY claustrophobic.

Yes. There were tears.

Yes. It felt like torture…

BUT, I somehow managed to connect with my breath.

And then to the senses that were not feeling smothered or bombarded…

I kept hearing “make friends with the moment” in my mind…

And after telling that voice to fuck off…

I softened and allowed myself to fully be in the moment, without wanting to escape – which, I discovered, was (of course) the very root of my suffering….

I started listening to the jack hammering sounds. Really HEARING them this time….

And, instead of going apeshit about them not stopping…

I heard music in between the “beats” of the hammer.

I started humming “om” and feeling the harmonious vibrations in my chest.

Felt the cool breeze of a fan on the tip of my head.

The smooth plastic of the MRI’s “panic” button in my damp, wet palm.

The warm tickle of tears rolling down my cheeks, pooling into my ears…

And then I thought of my mother, who suffered from even worse claustrophobia than I – and who was far shorter and thicker than I….

And how she must have suffered with far more vigor than I when she had her myriad MRI’s, stuck in that long, narrow tube back when she was battling cancer.

And then GRATITUDE set in…

For my height.

For my somewhat-slender figure.

For the strength my mindfulness practice has given me.

The strength I didn’t know I had.

Until…

That. Very. Moment.

The Mosaic of Life

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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.

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! 🙂

(Re)defining Success

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I mentioned a few weeks ago how things seem to be flowing for me these days. It feels like I’m heading in a positive direction with my mindfulness efforts, and I’m doing my best to be as present and grateful for what’s unfolding as I can without allowing myself to get too attached to any future outcome.

But this hasn’t been easy.

I’ve been witnessing my mind getting swept up in—and wanting to attach to—the “successes” that I’ve been experiencing.

Case in point—when I ran my free ebook promotion on Amazon earlier this month, I assumed I would give away a few hundred ebooks, and that would be that. But then, quite unexpectedly, the ebook started flying off the virtual shelves. And, sure—this is thrilling news. It’s perfectly “normal” to be excited when something you’ve put a great deal of energy into does well. But, this “excitement” felt different…. Almost immediately, I watched my mind diverting away from my initial intention of casually being engaged in monitoring the promotion—to reactively (and compulsively) obsessing over how many thousands of books I could giveaway before the promo ended.

And it didn’t stop there… When I saw that I’d entered Amazon’s Top 100 free ebooks list, I started obsessing over getting to #1 in my book’s category. And then, once I reached #1—I started obsessing about staying there.

Hour-by-hour (and sometimes minute-by-minute), I watched myself hitting the refresh button on my browser while I held my breath and waited to see how many more books I’d given away—and if my book’s ranking was holding at #1. My body felt anxious, excited, speedy. My mind and heart racing…. Thinking about it now as I write this, I see the image of a woman perched on the edge of her seat, compulsively feeding quarters into a slot machine in Vegas—and holding her breath as she waits to see if she’s hit the jackpot. This image, of course, was me during the promo. I was, essentially, riding an adrenaline rush—driven by my ambition to hit the jackpot of “success.”

But as exciting as it all felt, getting so caught up in trying to achieve—and maintain—”success” felt unhealthy (and downright icky). It took a good solid day before I was able to fully step back and see how entangled I’d become in the whole game.

And that’s when I recognized that I’d lost track of why it was so exciting that I was giving away so many books…. I’d been so busy tying my feelings of self-worth to the promotion’s “success”—that I’d lost touch with the whole reason I decided to do the promo in the first place: to share something of value with others.

On a related note…

Shortly after the promo ended, I happened to catch the documentary, “Decoding Deepak” on netflix, and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. If you haven’t seen the flick, Deepak Chopra’s son follows Deepak around with a video camera as he flies around the world promoting his new book.

And guess what happens?….

(SPOILER ALERT) Deepak spends most of the movie obsessively checking his blackberry and talking about being on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

Ah, “success….”

Spreading the Words

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As I mentioned, last week, it’s been a fun (and productive) few weeks. I’ll be writing more about what I’ve learned from a mindfulness perspective in posts to come here on this blog—I’m sure. But today, I’m pleased to be sharing a couple of posts of mine that were recently published on other blogs:

The Huffington Post, “20 Tips to Help You Survive Your First Silent Meditation Retreat”

Elephant Journal, “The Moment I Chose Mindfulness”

Happy reading—and please help pass these posts along to other folks who might be interested!

Thanks so much and BE well….

jennifer

Stirring the Pot

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It’s been an interesting couple of weeks since I finished my mindful eating exploration. I’m more conscious of the foods I’m consuming now (and where they’re coming from)—I’ve even eliminated a few from my diet altogether (like white rice and red meat). And, I’m not sure if this is a direct correlation to my having just cleansed my body or not—but I’m feeling more focussed and aligned with my purpose than I think I ever have….

In the past week, I’ve managed to give away more than 3,200 free The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat ebooks; the ebook made Amazon’s top 100 free ebooks list and landed #1 on both the free Memoir and the free Meditation ebooks list; I found out that two major internet publications will be publishing my writing about mindfulness (one actually just ran here); and I’ve started facilitating.

I’ve been contemplating everything that’s been happening lately—and as much as my ego would love to believe “I” was the “one” who MADE all these things happen, there’s a deeper part of me that knows it wasn’t about me somehow willing these results into existence. A constellation of circumstances, people, and occurrences contributed to all the positive outcomes mentioned above. And sure, I can take credit for bringing the elements together, but each element played its own significant part in the process—and the outcomes were never in my control.

In keeping within the recent food-related themes I’ve been writing about lately, it feels like I’m in the midst of “cooking” something new in my life—the circumstances, people and occurrences I mentioned above, acting like ingredients in a new recipe of sorts.

And contemplating this, it occurs to me that a cook doesn’t actually make the food she cooks. She collects all the elements needed to make a dish—the pots/pans, the individual ingredients, the stove, the utensils, the seasoning; she places them together in an orchestrated and (at least somewhat) deliberate dance—and then she steps back to let the magic happen. The chemical reactions that occur during the process of cooking actually create the dish. They’re a direct result of the cook’s actions to set them up. But the cook doesn’t actually make the chemical reactions happen by willing them to react.

When I cook a new dish, I tend to read a bunch of different recipes and then put the cookbooks away—borrowing what speaks to me from each separate recipe, maybe adding a few of my own touches into the mix—and then stepping aside and letting the magic happen. As long as I’m mindful about the process, adjusting the heat and adding a dash of this or a pinch of that as needed—I usually end up with something satisfying. And what’s happening in my life right now feels like a similar process.

One of the beautiful things about mindfulness, beyond helping me become more focussed, is that it’s helping me build an overall appreciation for (and feeling of satisfaction from) the process of life—and my place within that process. So, right now, I’m just doing my best to only add the ingredients that I’m clear I want in my life, to keep a watchful eye on everything—and then to step aside and let the magic happen.

And so far, it’s looking like the recipe I’m in the midst of concocting is going to churn out a satisfying meal (or at least a tasty side dish). But, even if it doesn’t—that’s ok, too. My life feels like a grand experiment these days. And I’m finally accepting that not everything I “cook” is going to be Michelin star worthy. Sometimes it might even end up being a recipe for disaster…But I’m cool with that—because there’s always something to be learned along the way (especially from the disasters).

I’m not exactly sure how this new “dish” of mine is going to turn out just yet. But I can tell you this much—something smells good….