Posts tagged ‘practice’

Concentration: A Way to Stabilize Your Agitated Mind

“Concentration is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Your mindfulness will only be as robust as the capacity of your mind to be calm and stable. Without calmness, the mirror of mindfulness will have an agitated and choppy surface and will not be able to reflect things with any accuracy.”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

StabilityAs human beings, our minds are naturally vulnerable to agitated thoughts. This is because we tend to be dominated by the ancient, reptilian part of our brain which is constantly on alert scanning the environment for potential threats. Whenever our brain perceives a potential danger is present, thoughts of alarm are triggered in order to stimulate our fight or flight arousal system. Left unchecked, our brain’s natural prioritizing of survival will leave our thoughts scattered, in a state of distraction, often with a corresponding heightened state of physical and emotional arousal.

This untrained state of mind “the Buddha compares to the flapping about of a fish taken from the water and thrown onto dry land. It cannot stay fixed but rushes from idea to idea, from thought to thought, without inner control.”1 Such a distracted mind is easily overwhelmed by worries and concerns, and the thoughts, being fragmented, are subject to distortion.

Cultivating a state of concentration is an alternative to allowing your agitated mind to run amok, thus, causing you unnecessary wear and tear. Concentration is a “single-pointedness of mind.”2 Establishing concentration requires deliberate effort to fix your mind upon a single object to the exclusion of others. To be effective, the object you select to focus your attention upon must be a healthful or beneficial one.

Once developed, concentration has a unifying impact on the mind; the more fragmented, scattered thoughts are collected into a single stream. “Like a lake unruffled by any breeze, the concentrated mind is a faithful reflector that mirrors whatever is placed before it exactly as it is.”3 Ultimately, concentration results in a freedom from distraction and induces a growing tranquility, from which greater insight can be attained. From this state of increased stability of awareness, rather than being driven into reactivity by distorted thoughts, you may instead be able to notice your experience, whatever is true, from a place of greater balance, and respond with choice. In the words of Lao Tzu, “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”

When your mind is distracted or agitated, you can use these methods to promote greater concentration or steadiness of awareness:

  • Ask yourself to maintain your focus on one object, anchoring your attention there, without letting your mind waiver. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back gently but deliberately to that object and continue this process no matter how frequently your mind wanders. The commonly recommended object to attend to is your breath; no matter where you are, your breath is always accessible, and it is always occurring in the present moment.
  • Maintain your awareness with the full duration of each breath, rather than merely the inhalation and/or the exhalation.   It is in the gaps that your attention is most vulnerable to being pulled by thoughts. Notice not only the inhalation and exhalation but also the transitions from the inhalation to the exhalation and the transitions from the exhalation to the next inhalation.
  • Use counting as a way of anchoring your awareness with your breath. Start by counting your first complete breath as “one.” Then count each subsequent breath until you arrive at a count of 10. If you lose count, without judging yourself or analyzing why, return your attention to your breath and start counting at “one” again. If you exceed a count of “ten,” without judging yourself or analyzing why, start counting at “one” again with your next breath.

References 1, 2, 3: The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Chapter 7

“We apply our effort to be mindful, to be aware in this very moment, right here and now, and we bring a very wholehearted effort to it. This brings concentration. It is this power of concentration that we use to cut through of surface appearance to get to a much deeper reality.”
~ Sharon Salzberg

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June 24, 2015 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

7 Tips to Get Your Butt on the Cushion!

“We must go beyond the intellect into the silence of our intuitive hearts, where separation disappears and knowledge gives way to wisdom.”
~ Ram Dass

Sit Stay Heal Mindfulness is currently a “hot” topic in the media. With the increasing number of books, articles, videos and other vehicles addressing mindfulness, it is relatively easy to learn about this topic. Consuming this information can be inspiring, motivating, and can even develop a sound intellectual understanding of the practices, yet, the impacts of mindfulness are not cultivated in this way. Its benefits are not easily attained; to realize these, some training is necessary, and, moreover, it entails a commitment to ongoing practice. You must go beyond your intellect and actually engage in the practices – it is, ultimately, an experiential process.

You need to make mindfulness a habit! According to Leo Babauta, a writer who focuses on implementing Zen habits in daily life, “If you want to form the habit of meditation, just get your butt on the cushion each day“. Here are some tips to help you do that:

1) Remind yourself of your intention.
Remembering the reason(s) you learned to practice (reduce stress, increase relaxation, minimize depression or anxiety, improve sleep, increase wisdom, etc.) can be a motivating factor.

2) Formalize your practice.
Carve out a specific time to practice each day. For greatest success, practice first thing in the morning – when you are most awake, have fewer distractions, before the momentum of your day builds and the busyness of your mind takes over.

3) Create a consistent practice space with minimal distractions.
Identify a place to practice where you will be comfortable and alert without distractions (turn off the phone, not in view of computer or other digital devices, let your family/roommates know that you do not wish to be disturbed). Try to practice in the same place each day; your mind will habituate to this location and it may become your welcome refuge.

4) Set a timer or use a guided practice so you are not tempted to keep looking at the clock.

5) Eliminate the “time” barrier.
Avoid the “all or nothing” mentality towards practicing. If it helps, start by committing to short practice times and build up to longer periods. When you don’t feel like you have the time for a full session of practice, engage for a shorter time to maintain your habit, such as five minutes, rather than none at all. Even short durations (10 to 15 minutes) of practice done on a regular basis will help your develop your mindfulness muscle and keep it fit.

6) Seek support
Find someone who will commit to practice with you, or attend a sitting group of practitioners. Additionally, there are apps available via your computer or smartphones that can be a means of support.

7) Try out different forms of mindfulness
Learning a variety of ways to cultivate mindfulness can be helpful since a single form of practice may not always feel suitable in every situation. Sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful movement (i.e. yoga, qi gong or walking meditation), can all be effective as part of your tool kit of mindful practices.

Once you’ve developed your habit of practice, extending mindfulness beyond the cushion into your daily active life is skillful, such as when you are driving, eating, conversing, or exercising. However, resist the belief that you can merely be mindful of your active life in lieu of formal practice, otherwise, your mindfulness skills will tend to wane.

“Sitting on the cushion” is where you are rewiring your brain – reinforcing the habit of bringing your attention to your present experience. By practicing on a regular basis, your mindfulness habit will continue to grow stronger, both on and off the cushion.

Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you’d like to be,
Not the saint you’re striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.

All of you is holy.

You’re already more and less
than whatever you can know.

Breathe out,
Look in,
Let Go.
~John Welwood

March 24, 2015 at 1:00 pm 4 comments

Mindfulness: Fitness for Your Brain

“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.”
~ Santiago Ramón y Cajal
, Advice for a Young Investigator

Train Your Brain One of the most common New Year’s resolutions made each year is to exercise more. Whether or not people actually follow through on this intention, it is an indication that people are well aware of the value of physical fitness; but, what about our brain? As scientific understanding of the brain evolves, there is a greater awareness of how important it is to keep this organ in our body fit. According to Dr. Judson Brewer (a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts who uses mindfulness to treat addiction), “[Mindfulness] is just the next generation of exercise. We’ve got the physical exercise components down. Now it’s about working out how can we actually train our minds.”1

The Mindful Brain
Until recently, neuroscientists believed that after early adulthood, the brain no longer is capable of significant change: the viewpoint was that, at a certain point, the brain becomes rigid, no longer plastic. More current research has shown this not to be true. Newer understanding recognizes that the brain remains plastic as we age.2 This means that we are able to continue creating new neural pathways (new connections in the brain), hence new skills, habits and ways of responding; although it takes conscious effort and repetition (training) to do so. It turns out that the brain can keep growing; it’s just that we have been using it in such a way that maintains rigid behaviors. Furthermore, mindfulness is one way to train our brain to maintain its plasticity and ultimately to create new patterns of response, even as we age.

How Mindfulness Changes Your Brain – The Proof is in the Brain Scans
Mindfulness has been practiced for over twenty six hundred years. Over that time, there has been a consistent history of anecdotal experience suggesting the positive outcomes of this practice. Today, with advances in the study of the brain, there is empirical research, using objective measures, that supports and validates many of these anecdotal claims. Modern science now provides physical evidence of benefits of mindfulness:

  • Philippe Goldin, a psychology researcher, headed a study at Stanford University to better understand the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training for people suffering from Social Anxiety Disorders. After two months of mindfulness meditation training, participants reported less emotional anxiety, reduced depression, and greater self-esteem. MRI scans observed participants’ brain activity before and after the training suggesting that mindfulness meditation might help people view themselves more positively.3
  • Another study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts shows that mindfulness meditation physically alters the brain. M.R.I. brain scans of participants who underwent eight weeks of MBSR training showed measurable changes in gray matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress, while a control group that did not practice meditation showed no changes. These brain scans also found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory, as well as a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress.4
  • Additionally, Dr. Judson Brewer, an addiction psychiatrist who studies how mindfulness changes the brain at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, brought experienced mindfulness meditators into an fMRI scanner and had them simply meditate while measuring their brain activity. It was found that a region of the brain called the posterior cingulate became active when folks were caught up in thought and quieted down when they were meditating.5 This is the same region that gets activated during states of craving, anxiety, rumination, and even when we are thinking about ourselves. Brewer postulates that training in meditation can help us get out of our own way when we are otherwise likely to get caught by these maladaptive states of mind.

Together, these studies validate that by practicing mindfulness meditation we are actually improving emotional and cognitive fitness of the brain.

Mindfulness is an Experiential Practice Not an Intellectual Exercise
With mindfulness becoming an increasingly popular topic, there is an abundance of books, articles, and videos touting its benefits. Additionally, mindfulness is showing up more often in mainstream media: Oprah has highlighted mindfulness in her programs and magazine over the years; just this year, in his book “10% Happier,” ABC News anchor Dan Harris shared how he turned to mindfulness meditation to address panic attacks and how it has helped him be happier6; and Anderson Cooper explored mindfulness in a segment of 60 Minutes7. Not surprisingly, I meet more and more new mindfulness students who arrive relatively well-read on the topic. This conceptual understanding is useful, however, the benefits of mindfulness do not come from a conceptual understanding; instead, it needs to be actually practiced for associated positive changes in the brain to occur. Just as with physical exercise that trains muscles in the body, it is the repeated experience of mindfulness that develops and trains the brain. For example, if I watch a yoga video, I may understand better how to move my body to attain specific poses, but unless I actually engage in those poses, I don’t gain their benefits. Likewise, mindfulness must actually be practiced in order to impact the fitness of the brain.

How to Engage in Mindfulness Meditation
It can be particularly difficult to develop new practices and make them part of your routine when you attempt to do it your own. This is true for mindfulness. Therefore, I don’t suggest that you go it alone when learning and developing mindfulness mediation. Here are some ways to learn mindfulness and approach it as a new element of your lifestyle and have the support that is necessary:

  • Take a class: look for an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program offered near you
  • Attend a mindfulness meditation sitting group
  • Go on a mindfulness meditation retreat
  • Find a teacher or coach to get you started and help you develop a practice

Ultimately, you will be the best judge as to how mindfulness meditation contributes to the fitness of your brain.

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”
~ Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

December 29, 2014 at 8:48 am Leave a comment

The Great Escape: Fleeing From Ourselves

Enlightenment is just intimacy with all things.”
~ Eihei Dogen

 

FleeingThe “shocking” reality

According to a study by a team led by Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia published in Science July 4, 2014, most people prefer to do something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative. To examine this, hundreds of participants were left in a bare room by themselves for 6 to 15 minutes with nothing to do: no phones, books, pens, or distractions of any kind. Just stay awake, be quiet, and sit idly in their seats. In one last experiment, 67 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women chose to administer a mild electric shock to themselves rather than finish the process. Beforehand, when given a sample, most said they’d pay $5 not to be zapped again — but when the time came, they still pushed the button. “The mind is designed to engage with the world,” Wilson says in a news release. “Even when we are by ourselves, our focus usually is on the outside world.” The team is working on the exact reasons why people find it difficult to be alone with their own thoughts.

The outcome of this study does not surprise me; however, I am disturbed by it. It reveals a universal, not merely personal, reality about the human condition in our current culture: that so many people would rather inflict pain upon themselves than be present with their direct experience. And, recognizing this inability to tolerate being with ourselves brings up a profound sadness in me. If we have such an aversion to allowing an intimacy with ourselves, then how can we encounter genuine intimacy with others?

How do you avoid being with yourself?

If you are truly honest, you will find that you, too, along with the vast majority of people, spend the better part of your life escaping yourself. We all employ strategies to preoccupy ourselves instead of being present with our experience. Here are just some of the ways we may do that:

  • Misusing substances: drugs (prescription and non-prescription), alcohol, food, etc.
  • Consuming electronics and media: TV, phone, computer (e-mail, social media, web surfing), news, etc.
  • Sleeping (as a means of avoidance instead of nourishment)
  • Staying Mentally Preoccupied: worrying, fantasizing, planning, ruminating, replaying, losing ourselves in memories/nostalgia, etc.
  • Staying Busy: working compulsively, exercising compulsively, cleaning compulsively, talking compulsively, socializing compulsively, etc.

These are all merely ways to keep ourselves distracted – rather than experiencing any potential dissatisfaction with the way things are in the moment. As Pablo Neruda asserts in his poem Keeping Quiet, “If we weren’t unanimous about keeping our lives so much in motion, if we could do nothing for once, perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness, this never understanding ourselves and threatening ourselves with death.” If you are willing to take a sincere look at your own behaviors, you may find a tendency to avoid intimacy with yourself by staying otherwise engaged using some of these strategies, albeit unconsciously. Moreover, once aware, you may begin to notice how these ways of being are actually self-destructive (not serving you) rather than promoting your well-being. For example, the simple habit of quickly checking your email before going to bed and unintentionally finding yourself on the computer for another hour or more, may be consistently robbing you of much needed sleep. At best, these strategies provide us with temporary relief. Ultimately, they are, instead, contributing to our suffering – we are causing harm to ourselves and, perhaps, also to others.

From what, or rather, whom are we escaping?

This is a question for which I do not have an answer. However, my best assessment is that we are afraid of what we might find, or not find, if we really take an honest look at our experience. The words of Alison Luterman in her poem, Stripping, suggest this underlying, existential fear:

“I want to strip.  It is the jewel at the center I seek;
let me be oyster, hoarding pearl.

Let me be coal, sheltering diamond.
Though in my heart of hearts I am afraid

I may be onion, each white circle
of stinky tears hiding another exactly like it.

Or rose: whose petals are her everything.”

How do we develop greater intimacy with, instead of fleeing from, ourselves?

People travel near and far in search of beautiful places and satisfying experiences. They surround themselves with luxurious comforts of accommodations, fine food, sumptuous things, or awe–inspiring natural settings. And yet, any satisfaction that may be experienced is fleeting, because “Wherever you go, there you are.” No matter our attempts, we can’t escape ourselves. Therefore, the way to develop intimacy with oneself is to simply meet your direct experience instead of creating separation. Start by inhabiting your body. This is the first foundation of mindfulness practice – mindfulness of body. Begin by bringing awareness of your body as a whole, specific sensations in your body (such as contact), and particularly, the experience of the breath occurring in your body. Whenever you notice your mind engaging in thoughts, no matter how frequently, bring your attention back to the experience in your body. This is a skill that we cultivate, not an intellectual process.According to Dogen, the path to realization is through the body. The human body, for Dogen, is not a hindrance to the realization of enlightenment (end of suffering); it rather serves as the vehicle through which enlightenment is realized by the aspirant. Dogen argues that those aspiring to become enlightened   strive with their bodies, practice seated meditation with their bodies, understand with their bodies, and attain enlightenment with their bodies.

The Buddha pointed out that we tend to give more importance to “thoughts” in the hierarchy of experience, yet a thought is no more important than the sensation in your small toe. As Kabir instructs,
Don’t go outside your house to see flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
Inside the body and out of it,
Before gardens and after gardens.”

This very thing we are trying to escape is actually our one true refuge. Therefore, staying connected to your direct experience through your body is one of the best ways to minimize suffering in your day-to-day life.

“Be at peace with your own soul,
Then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.

Enter eagerly into the treasure
house that is within you,

And you will see the things that are in heaven;
For there is but one single entry to them both.

The ladder that leads to the Kingdom
is hidden within your soul…

Dive into yourself and in your soul
And you will discover
The stairs by which to ascend.”

~ Saint Isaac of Nineveh

September 29, 2014 at 10:50 am 4 comments

Ah ha! Transforming Mindlessness to Insight

“A stumble may prevent a fall.”
~Thomas Fuller

V8It isn’t uncommon to beat yourself up when you catch yourself in a mindless state.  In that moment of realization, the automatic voice of your inner critic enters telling you why you need to kick yourself for your behavior or thoughts, not unlike the ad in which the person hits herself on the forehead when she realizes “I could have had a V8!” Most often the event is something simple and not too harmful; for example, a friend of mine recently told me that he had left some farm-fresh, organic vegetables in the car by mistake and by the time he remembered, hours later, they were no longer edible.  There are other times when the outcome is more costly or takes greater wear and tear on you.

Especially when you are new to the practice of mindfulness, you are vulnerable to judging yourself for these gaps in awareness; after all, it is violating the premise of mindfulness to not be present.  This self-punishment, however, does not serve you; it is a form of optional suffering that doesn’t add value to your experience and can be counter-productive.  Berating yourself does nothing to minimize the chances you will get caught in that same mindless reaction again in the future.

ah-haWhat if, as an alternative, you find the opportunity concealed in these mindless moments?  With awareness, these mindless states can actually transform into opportunities for insight.  Insight occurs when instead of feeding your inner critic through self-judgment, you notice what hooked you or pulled you away from being present, and see it more clearly.  Over time, you may recognize that acknowledging the preoccupations which ensnare your attention is an instrumental part of your path toward greater mindfulness.  Those precious moments of awareness are what afford you choice to respond effectively as opposed to the automatic reactions in which you’ve been unconsciously engaged.

So next time you catch yourself in a state of mindless reactivity, before you berate yourself, instead, congratulate yourself for noticing.  Relish that crucial moment of awareness and welcome any insight you may bring to light.  Overtime, as you continue to practice mindfulness in this manner, it is as if you are gradually uncovering the pearls hidden inside your oysters!

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter I
I walk down the street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I fall in.  I am lost …   I am helpless…  It isn’t my fault.  It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II
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 am in the same place.  But, it isn’t my fault.  It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III
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.

Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

~Portia Nelson

June 25, 2013 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

Tap Your Inner Resources Using Mindfulness

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are of little importance compared to what lies within us.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ruby SlippersMost of us are familiar with fictional tale “The Wizard of Oz.” In this story, a twister picked up Dorothy’s Kansas house, with her inside, and carried it to the Land of Oz.  Dorothy’s mission throughout the remainder of the adventure was to return home.  The residents of Oz suggested that she follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City in order to find the Wizard, who supposedly would help her return.

Along the way she met companions: the Scarecrow, who was convinced his life would be better if he only had a brain; the Tin Man, who desired a heart; and the Lion, who believed he was deficient of courage. Each of these characters thought that he was lacking something and put his faith in the legendary Wizard to give him what was missing.  However, when they finally reach the Emerald City, their expectations were shattered to find an unsympathetic Wizard. Nevertheless, as they continued the journey, each one illustrated the quality he felt was most absent: the Scarecrow demonstrated wisdom, the Tin Man embodied tenderness, and the Lion behaved bravely.  In each case, they revealed that they had those inherent virtues the whole time, but they just weren’t adept at accessing them in the beginning.  The Wizard, who turned out to be a charlatan, could only present the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion with outward symbols in recognition of their qualities: a diploma, a medal, and a testimonial, respectively.  The Wizard wasn’t able to give them anything they didn’t already possess.

And, what about Dorothy; she still hadn’t found a way home to Kansas?  When the Wizard’s hot air balloon finally sailed away from Oz without her, Dorothy believed her last option for returning was lost.  Yet, auspiciously, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, appeared once again. Glinda informed Dorothy that she didn’t need to be helped any longer.  In fact, Dorothy always had the power to go back to Kansas, but she had to learn it for herself.

Mindfulness practice often follows much the same journey.  When first arriving at this practice, many of us have been seeking solace, fulfillment, and security from sources outside of ourselves; to provide what we believe to be lacking or to fill perceived holes in our lives.  Yet, we have not found satisfaction in those attempts.  In contrast, as we cultivate mindfulness skills, we find a greater ability to bring our attention to our own experience, rather than searching externally.  In doing so, we essentially develop the capacity to come into closer contact with our intrinsic nature, to find our way home.  Reconnecting with our inner wisdom, heart, and courage is possible. Buddha is commonly quoted as having said, “Peace comes from within.  Do not seek it without.”  We realize we always have had this power. We just needed to learn how to access it.  And, essentially, the way we do this is by bringing our awareness into the present moment, rather than unconsciously becoming engaged in distractions, either outside of ourselves or in our own mind.  Bringing your attention to the present moment is the equivalent of Dorothy clicking her heals together and saying, “There’s no place like home.”

“it is here
in the breath
it is here
in the stillness between breaths
it is here
in the active mind
it is here
in the resting mind
it is here
in the dream’s panorama
it is here
in each moment of awakening
it is here
when all is well
it is here
when fear has nothing left to fear
even then
there is pure noticing
even then
there is no need for doing
no frantic searching
can find the obvious
no seeking needed
to find that which seeks
it is here
where it can never be lost
or found”

~ Nirmala

March 25, 2013 at 5:23 pm Leave a comment

Lighten Your Load

“We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.”
– John Newton

Burden-251x300I’ll begin by sharing with you an often told anecdote.  A lecturer, when explaining the impacts of stress to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.  The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter.  It depends on how long you try to hold it.  If you hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem.  If you hold it for an hour, your arm will ache. If you hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance.  In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes.”  She continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress.  If we carry our burdens all the time, no matter how minor they seem, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, it becomes an obstacle for us.”

Likewise, each of us is vulnerable to preoccupations, from the moment we arise in the morning until we fall asleep at night.  Knowingly or unknowingly, we accumulate these concerns and carry them around with us, picking up more and more without freeing ourselves of the previous ones.  As we do so, they become a greater and greater burden.  You may be surprised at how much weight you are hauling day to day.  And that energy can be better employed for things that really matter right now.

Fortunately, mindfulness provides an opportunity for you to lighten your load, to free yourself of these burdens.  By asking yourself to be aware of your experience in the here and now, to be fully in the present moment, you can release the energy you are expending on preoccupations that have been consuming your attention.  Additionally, as you do this, you can become more familiar with the nature of the concerns that pull your attention and gain insight into those patterns.  Recognizing these patterns enables you to allow the preoccupations to arise and pass, without grabbing hold of them, thus freeing you from their encumbrance.

In the midst of a recent group mindfulness practice, one of the participants, Donald, described an experience of his burdens easing in this manner: “And then, between one mindful footstep and another, I realized that I was free. In the moment, I had escaped the weight of the world. The bills, the projects, the politics…  None of that was with me in the now. Nor are they now. I am aware of them, patiently waiting their turn. But I’m no longer carrying them, in the now.”

To help facilitate this process, each time I lead an all-day retreat, as part of an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, I offer students the opportunity to lighten their load when the retreat begins.  As we check in, I encourage students to hand over to me, for safe keeping during the day, any preoccupations they are carrying with them.  To be clear, these are not burdens I add to my own plate, instead, I place them into a virtual, infinite storage space where they can be housed.  Students hand over things such as concerns about a work project, a child’s soccer game that is being missed, anxieties about health, errands that need to be run, and a variety of other tasks on “to do” lists. This process assists students by freeing up their attention so that they are more able to bring their awareness fully into the present moment throughout the day.  At the end of the retreat, students have the option to collect items they had entrusted to me, or keep them in the storage area more permanently.  There are very few people who end up taking back items from the storage area; only things that still require attention are retrieved.

You can do this for yourself.  First, recognize what you are carrying around with you – really stop and pay attention as you consider this. Then, before you go any further, out of kindness for yourself, put down anything that may be a burden to you right now. (There is plenty of room in the virtual storage space for your burdens to be housed, so go ahead put them there.)  Start even for a moment, and if you can, refrain from picking them back up again.  (You may leave them in the storage area permanently.)  Repeat this process on a regular basis to continue to lighten your load.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
– Lou Holtz

January 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

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Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

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