Living with our thoughts

thought by thought

 

It’s amazing what our minds can conjure up.  Our thoughts flit and wander from one to another, thinking back to a tender moment, then perhaps drawing out feelings of revenge, rage or anger, bounding to things real, imagined or events that happened or not.  Waking from a dream, feelings can arise leaving you in a state of panic thinking something happened to you that didn’t – it was just part of your dream thoughts.  The body reacts, and stress is induced.

 

I like this quote.  “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. ‘ It is usually attributed to Mark Twain but this isn’t the case. No one really knows who actually said it.  After all, it sounds like something Mark Twain would say.   This attribution to Mark Twain is made up, not real, part of our group collective consciousness.  Part of our attempt to attach meanings to everything in the world.

 

In our day to day, we seem drawn to grab onto thoughts and let them take us wherever they may go.  The mind wanders again and again.  When the power of the present thought recedes, we take flight on another, then another.  The mind seems never to be still.  We worry when the mind goes off this way, sometimes willing our mind to return to the old thought and patterns of thinking.

 

This is where a meditation practice can help by embracing this property of jumping from thought to thought.  For this practice, we practice going for the ride, not trying to exert control.  By allowing our minds to go where they may, watching the thoughts in our minds come and recede, and practicing letting go of trying to hold onto them and attach meanings, we practice non-attachment.

It can help us reclaim a sense of calm when we realize we don’t have to control each and every thought that arises.  We don’t have to attach any importance to one thought over another.  Whenever a thought takes us on a flight of fancy, we just notice what the thought has become, notice that our mind has moved on, and focus on the new thought.  When we need to recenter ourselves, we return our attention to our breath, living in the experience of just breathing one breath at a time.  No judgment, no interpretation on what the last thought meant, even if it is from a dream, just let the mind be.

 

The next time you approach your meditation practice, try meditating in this way.  Stay open to whatever comes up.  Just notice.  Don’t label. You can focus your attention to the feelings that come up when you have a particular thought.  Don’t try to analyze, just observe, and when your mine wanders off, let it wander.  No control. Let go of the old thought and turn your attention to the new one.  You don’t have to feel bad that your mind has wandered, just let your awareness go to the next thought.  Breathe in. Breathe out.  Moment by moment let your mind focus on whatever comes up.

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation Challenge

commit_to_sit

This month, I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge with a commitment to sit in meditation every day in February.  Last year over 23,000 joined following the program outlined in Real Happiness.  Each week, different meditation practices will be offered.  The commitment is small.  Each day takes less than ten minutes of time.  The first week will focus on a concentration practice.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and sharing my experiences. If you’ll be doing this challenge, let me know!

Registration is still open if you want to join us.  Have you ever done a meditation challenge before? If you have, I’d love to hear about it!  If you join,  I’d love to hear about that too!

Here is the link    Commit to Sit 

 

 

 

Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Shodhana

alternate nostril breathing

 

Nadi is a Sanskrit word that means channel.  Shodhana means purification.   In the yogic tradition, Nadi Shodhana is thought to purify the subtle channels of the body. Alternative nostril breathing is a breathing technique that activates the parasympathetic nervous system to produce a sense of calmness.  Some studies have shown that Nadi Shodhana can reduce feelings of stress as well as fostering a feeling of well being.  It may also increase your ability to take fuller, and deeper breaths.  As with any breath technique, if this one causes you any discomfort, discontinue. There are plenty of other techniques out there.

Try alternate nostril breathing the next time you meditate. Start by sitting in a comfortable position.  Take your right hand, and fold the pointer and middle fingers into your palm.  Place your ring finger near your left nostril with your thumb near your right nostril.  By alternatively opening and closing your nostrils with your ring finger for the left nostril and your thumb for the right nostril you will be able to breath using just one nostril at a time.

Exhale.  Close your eyes, and use your thumb to close your right nostril. Start the first round by inhaling slowly from your left nostril.  Close your left nostril with your ring finger, and, at the same time, let your thumb come off of your right nostril allowing it to be open.  Slowly, exhale through your right nostril.  When your breath is completely empty, slowly inhale through the right nostril. Once your lungs are full, close off the right nostril and exhale through your left nostril until your breath completely empties.  Inhale again fully through your left nostril.  Repeat.

Try to complete ten to twenty breaths of alternate nostril breathing or more if you can.  If holding your arm in front of you becomes tiresome, hold the elbow of your right arm with your left palm for support.

 

Now, the Present Moment, and Mary Oliver – Part Two

In this blog pose, we continue exploring Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day.

Here are the final four lines:

 

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 

These lines can bring up some distressing thoughts, confronting a harsh truth that most of us wish to ignore.  Life as we know it will end – perhaps even sooner then we wish.  When it does, the poem asks us to question ourselves – have I done everything I should have done or wanted to do?  Perhaps we have been pushing to the future something we have always been intending.  Perhaps we haven’t done all that we might have wished to?

 

But, to me, the last question of the poem offers hope.  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  What are you going to do NOW that you could,  should, or want to do?  What will you do with your own time?  Take a few moments of your precious time to do some introspection. It is a good, deep question to ponder on a cold winter night.

 

wisconsin-horicon-national-wildlife-refuge-colorful-sunset_800

 

What is it you want out of life?  Are you getting it now?  To me, this poem is a call to action.  It tells us to  focus on our own life’s plan, to live in the now, to take action in this current time, and to make a plan for our future, by figuring out what we really want out of life.  Then, attempt to do it.

 

Start now.  Create a plan as a guiding arrow for your life’s direction, but, always, live in the present.  It is ok to change your plan, (for after all it is only a plan), but if you do, do it freely, and eagerly, and follow your new path with equal zeal and vigor. 

 

The last five words of the poem are the heart of the matter – your wild and precious life.  Your life is indeed precious, your life wondrous and maybe a bit wild!

 

Don’t let these special and precious moments escape you without noticing them anymore.  Make a plan to set a direction for your own path.

 

Use the insights to keep you focused in your yoga and meditation practices.  Savor each and every time you step on your mat.  Take these thoughts into your life off of the mat as well.  Set a direction for what you want to do, yet, live in the present moment.  Follow your arrow, but maintain awareness with each breath and with everything that you do.  Create your sense of purpose, keeping alive a sense of wonder as you live and explore the world with your one wild and precious life!

 

Remembering Mary Oliver

 

remembering mary oliver

 

 

A Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Now, the Present Moment, and Mary Oliver – Part One

Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, has died at the age of 83.  What she left behind is a treasure trove of poetry that brought forth feelings and deeper meanings in the natural world and beyond.  She has been compared to having the vision of Ralph Waldo Emerson and according to Bruce Bennett her award-winning book American Primitive has the “primacy of the primitive”  (July 17, 1983 New York Times).   She could often be found walking the lands of Cape Cod which holds a special place in my heart.

 

One special quality of her poems is the feeling of ‘nowness’ – being in the present moment and a sense of wonder.

 

Read the beginning her poem called A Summer Day.

 

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

 

 

The questioning attitude of the poet, that feeling of being a witness and part of an experience happening in just this present moment, now and at no other time, the joy of witnessing  – just a small wonder. All this shines through clearly in her poetry.  We seem to take for granted the little things that make up our lives passing though the world without really noticing.   Mary Oliver reminds us just how special our world really is.

 

 

photo by dan dvorscak

(photo by Dan Dvorscak)

 

In Sanskrit rasa( रस)  means the tastes of life.  It can be something you see, a beautiful flower that takes your breath away; something you hear, possibly music; or even something you read, perhaps this poem. Whatever it is, it evokes such sensations that we pause and notice.  These sensations are generally hard for most of us to put into words.

 

But, you are part of the process that creates these feelings of rasa.  The rasa does not exist by itself.  It is neither in the object nor just inside you.  The experience needs both the object and the observer.  The feeling is intertwined, formed by the relationship between the seer and the object. Or perhaps, think of rasa as a flavor.  The flavor comes from your taste buds interacting with the food you are eating.  You and the food become as one in the experience of tasting.   Without either the food or you there is no taste.

 

 

Wonder, Yoga, and Meditation

 

The rasa term for wonder is adbhuta.  It is that feeling of being surprised, being filled with a sense of admiration, amazement, or even awe at something beautiful or remarkable.  Wonder is also be experienced by looking at something in a new light.

 

Let’s take this attitude of wonder into our yoga and meditation practices.  The next time you take a yoga class, sit for a few moments before beginning your practice.  Focus on the wonder in your amazing body that allows you to do these poses we call yoga.  Feel the sensations that come up when doing each pose.  Right now, marvel at the feelings and sensations that are arising.  Don’t try to imagine what the pose felt like the first time or the last time you did them, rather experience the poses as if you are doing them for the very first time.  If a sensation or movement brings a strong sense of wonder to you, stay with it.  Perhaps hold the pose a little longer than the rest of the class is.  After all, it’s really your yoga class! Your experience is neither in the teacher nor the other students. This adbhuta that you are feeling arises from your explorations with the world.

 

In your next meditation practice, bring something to mind that is truly marvelous – wonderful, delightful, full of awe.  If nothing comes to mind, use the grasshopper experience from Mary Oliver’s poem.  Imagine a grasshopper sitting in your hand eating some sugar.  Imagine what its head looks like. Imaging what the eye of a grasshopper sees and how the world looks from its perspective.  Imagine the wonder of seeing the grasshopper as it takes to the air and flies.

 

grasshopper

 

Take this sense of wonder and experience of mystery of the small things off your mat and into the rest of your life.

 

Our First Candle Meditation

candle

 

 

Candle gazing is a great meditation technique for these short days of winter.  At this time of year, lighting a candle not only brightens our room, but also, seems to make us just a little brighter on the inside.

 

 

Why candle gazing? Candle gazing helps increase our ability to focus.  It can also calm the mind.  The candle becomes our center of interest, our object of observation, concentrating our attentiveness to a single point in space.  The flame of the candle flickers, moves, and yet remains in some ways still, always there in front of us.  The subtle movement of the flame captures our attention and keeps drawing back our wandering mind to the candle.  Something from deep within our humanity induces us into watch the candle – perhaps an old ancestral memory from our days of sitting around the fire.  Attracted to the paradox of seeing endless movement without moving keeps our mind’s attention still.  As we bring attention to the candle and nothing else, our extraneous thoughts dissolve.  As new thoughts enter our mind we let go of them, returning to the ever-changing flame.

 

Candle Meditation One:    

 

Make sure you do this meditation in a safe manner.  As you are using a flame, make sure to keep it away from anything flammable. If possible, turn off all lights so you can concentrate on just the candle.  If doing during the day you may want to pull the blinds down to create darkness.

 

Light your candle and place it in front of you.  It is best if the candle can be placed a little higher than just on the floor.  Ideally, the candle will be at eye level, so sitting in a chair and putting the candle on a table is a good option.

 

candle gazing

 

Take a calming breath, then another.

 

Breathe in through the nose, and out through the nose.

 

Draw your attention to the lighted candle.

 

Again, breathe in through the nose and out through the nose.   Do this a couple of times.  Take full and deep breaths, filling and emptying your lungs completely.

 

Watch the flame.  Let your eyes be restful.  Keep them still, unmoving; relaxing the muscles of your eyes – notice anything straining your eyes and try to let go of it if you can.

 

As you gaze, the flame may seem to go a little out of focus.  This is natural.   Don’t be intent on refocusing your eyes right away.  Allow the eyes to readjust slowly.  This is sometimes called using a soft focus.  Gaze softly at the flame.  Keep your attention on the flame itself – not the candlewick.  If possible, focus at the very tip of the flame – where the flame ends and the smoke begins.  Focus only on the flame, keeping your gaze soft. Imagine as you breath in that you are breathing in the light of the candle.  Imagine as you breathe out, you are breathing out the light of the candle.

 

As you continue to gaze at the candle, things in the background of your vision may recede.  Objects in your peripheral vision may disappear – although a small movement of the eyes is all it takes to bring them back to  view.  See if you are ok with your peripheral vision disappearing for a few moments.  Don’t be in a rush to move your eyes to bring things back into focus.

 

Your thoughts may also recede.  The small movements of the flame may be just enough to steady your mind and stop your mind from moving from thought to thought.

 

Continue for as long as you wish.  When done, blow out the candle.  Close your eyes and just breathe for a few moments before you go back to your day.

 

Let me know how candle gazing works for you.  Namaste.

 

Sankalpa, Setting intentions & New Year’s Resolutions

resolutions

 

This is a good time of year to reflect on the past while making plans for the future.  Many of us are making our New Year’s resolutions.

I recently read an article in the New York Times describing how Deepak Chopra spends his Sundays.  Doing what Deepak does sounds like the basis of a good resolution for the New Year to me.  What does Deepak do?  “There is yoga, there is walking, there is meditation. There is mindfulness, there is reflection, there is detachment – and there is also coffee, lots of coffee.”   https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/nyregion/how-deepak-chopra-wellness-expert-spends-his-sundays.html

Making a resolution is one thing but how do you keep it?  Is there a way to have a better chance on keeping our resolutions?

 Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word for setting intention or direction.  Sankalpa is informed by both the heart and the mind and to me seems much deeper than our traditional use of the word “resolution”.  Using Sankalpa – putting both our heart and mind into our resolution will give us a better chance of keeping it.

   Making resolutions are all about change – changing things in our lives that no longer serve us.  We sense that there is something needing to be changed, and make a resolution to change it.  It may be to lose weight, to exercise more, do more mediation or yoga – really anything.   Sankalpa is the informed way of choosing what you will do or change in your resolutions by making sure you really are committed to the change.

 

Sometimes we just know that change is needed in our lives.  We know if we make the change we will live better and be happier.  We know deep down that we must change but never seem to start on that path.  So if you are making your resolutions to change in 2019, intend to keep them.  Use your heart and mind to set your intentions.

Sometimes we really need to change something.  If we do not, someone or something may cause us to take notice – perhaps not the best way to cause change for ourselves.

A little bit of Zen wisdom:

If we need to change and we do not do it in our own, oftentimes the world steps in and does whatever it must to make the change happen. One way invites grace, the other does not.  Choose the way of graceful change.  Do what needs to be done. (Zen Live by Daniel Levin)

On the other hand, you may be having trouble coming up with a resolution or finding your sankalpa.  If you are struggling and want to make a resolution take again this wisdom from Zen:

It sounds so easy, and maybe it is:  Stop doing the things that bring pain.  Start doing the things that bring happiness.  – Good advice from the ages for our time here.  

Wishing you peace and happiness in the New Year.

 

 

lotus_natural_water_meditation_zen_yoga_yoga_meditation_spirituality-652397.jpg!d