For a little inspiration on keeping up your practice read the story of the Three Meditating Monks.
Three Monks are meditating silently in a cave. A year passed. They remained silent sitting and meditating.
Three Monks are meditating silently in a cave. A year passed. They remained silent sitting and meditating.
Happy Thanksgiving! If you are preparing the dinner, waiting for guests, or are just generally stressed on this day, take five and re-center yourself. It’s ok. The kids running around, and the dog barking will wait. The worries of the day can wait too – whatever they are. Find a quiet space, close the door. Dim the lights and maybe light a candle. Create a little sanctuary for yourself. If you have to, go into the bathroom and lock the door. Again it’s ok. You can get back to all the excitement in a few minutes. If you have limited time, set a timer. Try five minutes, or fifteen if you have it.
Sit in a chair or upright on the floor. Get comfortable.
Again, be comfortable, for this the most important part of the practice. If you are not comfortable, rearrange yourself or try sitting someway else. For example, if sitting on the floor seems too hard, give yourself a break and sit in a chair. This is “you time”. Enjoy it!
Sit up straight, place your hands on the tops of your thighs with palms pressing downwards. Your eyes can be open or closed. If you have lit a candle, you can turn your gaze to it.
Sit in this way for a little while. Try to keep focused on what is happening with your body. Notice how all the different parts of you feel. What do your feet feel like? What do your legs feel like? What about your back? Keep going. Explore your entire body.
As your mind wanders to other things, like the smell of coffee, or the bang from downstairs, gently come back to your practice of noticing the feelings coming from your body. When your attention drifts, just say to yourself, “noise” and return to your body. Don’t rush. Start with your toes and end up at the top of your head. Use this labeling technique for the rest of our sitting meditation. When something impinges on your quiet time, just label it, “noise” and return.
Now, bring attention to your breath. Watch the breath as it comes into and out of your body. Bring all your attention and focus to your breath Just watch as the air comes in and goes out. Notice the length of your in breath and the length of your out breath. Just notice, don’t change it in any way. This is your natural breath. As you relax, your breath may become longer and fuller. It also may not. It doesn’t matter. For this time, just notice. Notice how it comes in, and goes out, and notice if it changes on its own over time.
Finally, let your attention on the breath diminish, and notice just your thoughts. Watch them as they come into your mind and watch them as they recede. Like the breath, don’t try to control your thoughts or think in any certain way. Just watch them. When one thought recedes and another one comes up, pay attention to this new thought. Let the old one just fade. Don’t try to stay with any one thought for any time. When it leaves, it leaves. Let it go. Stay with this practice for as long as you like or as long as you have today. Give yourself the gift of “me time ” even for just a little bit in all of the energy and connections of your celebrations. I leave you with this poem as you return to your day.
Thanksgiving is here, so our minds have turned
To what time has taught us, to what we’ve learned:
We often focus all our thought
On shiny things we’ve shopped and bought.
We take our pleasure in material things,
Forgetting the pleasure that friendship brings.
If a lot of our stuff just vanished today,
We’d see the foundation of each happy day
Is special relationships, constant and true,
And that’s when our thoughts go directly to you.
We wish you a Thanksgiving you’ll never forget,
Full of love and joy—your best one yet!
Poem by Joanna Fuchs
In New England, it’s really here. The first snowstorm of the season has arrived – a little too early for most of us. Everyone seems to have forgotten how to drive in the inclement weather. The panic sets in. Milk and bread are scarce in the grocery store aisles and yet, by some miracle, shelves are restocked to overflowing capacity by the very next day.
For some the change in weather, from fall to winter, is a time for withdrawal, of going deeper inside, of closing up. It is a more contemplative time of the year. The world seems a little darker and perhaps the darkness permeates into our insides. The earth also seems a little smaller, a little gloomier, as we cocoon ourselves into our homes – waiting for the winter to end and a new spring to come back again.
Nature too has prepared for the changing of the seasons. The trees have let go of their last leaves, shedding what is no longer needed for the long sleep of winter. It is much too cold with too little light so the leaves fall, dropping, bit by bit, letting go of the old, and providing a deep covering for the earth that refreshes the soil, and nourishes the roots.
We too have an opportunity to release those things that no longer avail us. As we prepare to spend more time inside, let us ask ourselves which of our own leaves are we are willing to shed. What is in our life that is no longer serving us? What can we let go of?
Ask yourself what have you brought into your cocoon that doesn’t serve your current needs? Is there something in your life that you are ready to release and let go of? Are you doing something now that is not in the best interests of the future you? Is there something that is keeping you from achieving your life goals that you can shed? What habits are holding you back? What is taking up too much time or space in your life as you wish to live it?
Just as the leaves fall from the tree and serve the tree by blanketing the earth and invigorating the soil, by letting go of what is holding us back, we too can nurture ourselves much more deeply. By eliminating some of our old habits and ways of thinking that no longer serve us, we help make room for new ways of doing things, creating new growth and gaining new perspectives.
Reflecting on our old habits, and willingly dropping those, which do not serve, helps nurture us. As these older habits recede into the inner soil of our consciousness they provide the enrichment for new, better-suited practices to take hold.
Take a walk outside. I know it is cold out there but go anyway. Look deeply – particularly at the branches of the trees. You may see that the trees have already prepared tiny little buds, waiting for the warmer weather to open and form new leaves for another cycle of life. The tree is patient, knowing that in time; new leaves inside the buds will help it grow.
Patience is a virtue particularly auspicious in our winter times. Winter is a good time to renew again and perhaps plant the seeds of inspiration or generate new habits that will allow us to further grow along our path. Like the tree, cultivating these new habits takes time, so having the patience to create your own new buds in the form of new habits is a commitment to yourself.
Winter is also a good time for creating a new practice; or creating new rituals that will keep us engaged more fully in this quiet time of the year. Ask yourself, what can I do now? What am I not currently dong that would bring me joy? Why can’t I start doing this new activity, as the days are getting shorter? Can I prepare as the tree does – growing some small buds in the form of new habits that can blossom and help me grow in my future self?
Perhaps you have been intending on starting a yoga or meditation practice. The shortening of the days is the perfect time to begin. No need to wait for the New Year when everyone else starts making his or her resolutions. If you start going to a studio now, it will be less crowded. It will feel more fulfilling and help you cultivate your new start. If you start practicing at home and you keep practicing though the fall and into the winter, you will have developed your practice into a solid habit by the beginning of the year and start the spring of your new journey just a little bit earlier, happier, and more at ease.
Here in New England it is time for fall. The leaves are changing colors and the temperatures are dropping downwards. Nature is preparing for the upcoming winter. Animals are migrating to warmer spots of the world. Some stay, preparing for hibernation or burrowing into the ground. The gardens are producing their final crops of the season. The bees seem to be preparing for the long rest of the upcoming winter finding the last flowers on their journeys to and from the hive.
It is a great time of the year for a hike outdoors. Recently, I took a hike into the woods. The leaves had just started changing colors so I had the expectation of seeing the beautiful colors in the trees. This year’s summer was exceptionally hot and humid and the air still retained that feeling of being full of moisture and wetness. In the forest, because of the wetness, the mushrooms and fungi were everywhere in beautiful colors from brilliant oranges, blues, greens, and reds – I had never seen such a show of color! This was quite unexpected. The trees, while starting to change colors have not reached their peak but this was more than compensated for by the colors on the ground.
I came upon a spot in the forest, which has a vernal pool – a place that is usually wet in the spring, but dries out in the summer and for the rest of the year. Coming to the pool, I stopped to take a look. The pool was full of water, even in the fall. I continued walking till I reached the edge of the water, I heard the sound of a short cry, a croak and then a splash. Suddenly these sounds were everywhere surrounding me, calling out wherever I stepped. I was surprised to find out that it was frogs were making these sounds. Frogs in the fall – this was quite amazing. Standing quietly at the edge of the water from the far side of the pool came the sound of bullfrogs so there were more than one specie in the vernal pool. Now this was truly exceptional. I expect to hear frogs in the springtime or even in the summer but have never heard them in the fall. The sound of frogs in the fall opened up a new experience to me. If I had ignored the pool or just kept my attention on wanting to see the leaves of the trees I would have missed out – just as I would have missed out on seeing the mushrooms and fungus on the forest floor. Staying open to seeing whatever came up in the forrest allowed me to see some pretty amazing things and interact with nature in a new way.
Sometimes in life we go on expecting the world to be in a certain way. When the world doesn’t meet our presupposed expectations, we may become a little emotionally down. We block what is right in front of us getting it out of our mind, and refocusing our attention on the things we see that are familiar and more in line with our expectations. We choose not to see the world as it really is, but rearrange it to make it fit our sense of what it should look like. We separate ourselves from the change in the world.
This week, take your own walk outside, be it in a forest, or on a sidewalk in a city. Really observe and just look at the world as you walk without bringing your expectations to the experience. Don’t expect to see anything in particular – just concentrate and enjoy seeing whatever you see – being in the moment – observing whatever comes your way. Accepting that that is how it should be.
Can we make the experience of walking mindful, appreciating each and every step of the journey as special in its own way? Can we savor each moment, feeling the sense of aliveness just by walking and not focusing on getting to a destination? Try it out for yourself. You may just find your “inner frog” this fall!