Exercise Equals Good Health

Exercise Equals Good Health

Easter 36-46

 

Exercise does a body good.  We all know that.  However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well.  The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.

 

Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises.  “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”

 

Life is messy.  We all know that.  Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives.  One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate.  A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions.  On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands.  I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core.  Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain. 

 

Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it.  There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts.  Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you.  What would your response be?  Focused meditation relies on living in the moment.  That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now.  Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate.  Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.

 

Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation.  “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways.  While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:

Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.

Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.

Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”

 

Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing.  When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress.  I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table.  As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress. 

 

Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter the genre of music.  Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being.  Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise.  Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment.  It will also improve your digestion!

 

The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted.   Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head.    Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness.  “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”

 

Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said:  “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”  The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment.  This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.  The world and we certainly need more of that.

Instructions for Anger

Instructions for Anger

Easter 22-23

 

Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Agnostic, Atheist, or somewhere in-between any of the above, we all experience anger.  I think anger can sometimes be a positive emotion.  The patient who is angry that a disease like cancer seems to think it can beat them will get angry and often, fight harder to survive.  But what about that deep anger that destroys us from the inside out?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh describes happiness as not suffering.  This Buddhist teacher and spiritualist reminds us that true happiness comes from within ourselves and not from material things or social standing.  Regardless of how it may seem, reality shows like “the Kardashians” are not about people who have it all but rather about people who struggle with an impossible race to reach happiness through impossible means.  The one emotion that drives such programs and thinking is anger.

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom.  When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.

 

“After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is “samyojana”. It means “to crystallize.” Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing.”

 

It has become popular to “vent” one’s anger.  Sometimes people hit pillows but does this really release the anger?  As a parent I taught my kids to do jumping jacks, that exercise where you spread your arms wide over your hard and spread your feet accordingly while you jump back to a standing position.  For small children, this gives them a sense of being in control as they dictate what their body is doing and are no longer captive to their feelings of anger.

 

For adults, Nhat Hanh offers this advice.  “Whenever you feel yourself becoming angry, start practicing mindfulness.  Think of that one thing that makes you happy.  Visualize yourself in your most favorite spot doing something you enjoy doing.  Recall the feelings of happiness that that activity and that location bring to you and let yourself experience happiness.  To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.  Many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us.

 

“Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.”

 

We are going to feel anger.  It is an inevitable part of life.  It is up to us to decide whether to use it, embrace it, or to let it eat us up and destroy us.  Nhat Hanh suggests this analogy:  “When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn’t have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm—there’s no fighting at all between them.

 

“Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger.” We behave exactly like a mother: “Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child”, ourselves.

 

When we use our anger mindfully, we are showing compassion, not only to another but also to ourselves.  We must learn to do this because without it, we will not truly show compassion to others.  Nhat Hanh offers this very important piece of advice regarding life, its messiness and its inevitable feels of anger.  “To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. It is like growing lotus flowers; we cannot grow a lotus on marble. We cannot grow a lotus without mud.”  Anger will be a part of our lives.  We can either choose to let it be the medium through which we grow or something that drags us down like quick sand.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Steps Forward

Twelve Steps Forward

Easter 8 – 19

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I do not know Charles Francis and this really is not an advertisement for his book.  I do recommend reading his explanation of each step, however, and perhaps trying one a day for the next twelve days.  Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further, and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from your practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

This series topic of mindfulness is not designed to create more things to do in your daily schedule.  Once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.

Present and Accounted For

Present and Accounted For

Easter 2

 

Most of us began our childhood days in school by answering to a roll call.  A teacher would call out our name and we would answer “Here”.  Then the teacher would send a note to the office or record in the roll book that all were “present and accounted for”.  A teacher needed to keep track, especially since school attendance is compulsory in many areas.  Knowing that your child is safe inside the halls of academia is also a good feeling for the parents.  It does, however, set up expectations for us that perhaps go too far.

 

First, in today’s world, school is not always a safe haven.  Young girls are abducted by fanatical groups who see strong women as a threat and educating girls as the first step in creating strong women.  Mental health issues unaddressed have also been at the heart of most school shootings and have resulted in many school now spending as much on security as they do on textbooks.

 

Taking attendance at school is not a bad thing and school security has been important for over forty years.  The problem comes when we expect our life to be as clear and simple as taking attendance.  Just showing up is important but as we go through our living, are we truly “present” or do we just go through the motions?

 

If we are to really live what we learned during our Lenten series, we must be mindful of our living.  We must be present each hour and not just go through the motions.  All too often we awake dreading the day.  Life is not always fair.  There is no getting around that basic fact.  There will always be someone who appears prettier, has more toys, gets ahead in what seems like an easier and faster career projector.  Life is messy and, at times, unfair.  It can still be good, nonetheless.

 

Instead of waking up thinking of all the things you “have to” do that day, why not open your eyes and marvel in those things that you “get” to do?  You have to get up early and go to work?  Rejoice that you have a job; not everyone does.  You have to clean house; be grateful you have a house.  Someone made fun of your religious head covering?  It is always wrong for someone to bully another based upon religious or spiritual preferences but give thanks that you are strong and secure enough in your faith to wear it in public because not everyone is or can.

 

Life is not always fair but it is always good and a blessing to live.  Hopefully in these fifty days of Easter we will explore the many things we get to do in our living.  I hope today you will be mindful of those blessings and present as you do them.  Life is the greatest gift of all and we get to experience it each and every day.  When we are truly mindful of that, then we are not only present, we are able to recognize and account for the beauty that life can be.

Mindful

Mindful

Lent 34

 

Every so often a new word seems to capture our attention.  Recently the term “mindfulness” has become trendy.  It is, however, an integral part of our growing and always has been ever since the first time we fell as babies trying to walk.  During the fifty days of Easter we will discuss this topic more thoroughly but today, the Beatitudes are calling us to be mindful and aware of the events in our own lives and how our response determines the chart we course in our being.

 

Throughout this series we have discussed cause and effect and attitude.  We have compared our living to following a treasure map.  We all are truly adventures on a quest for a better life, hopefully not only for ourselves but for all humanity.  The paths we walk are not always the path we anticipated. 

 

Born Deirdre Blomfield and later adding Brown to her name, the American Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chodron practices the Tibetan tradition through the Kagyu school and Shambhala tradition.  She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from college at UC Berkley.  She became a mother(and grandmother) and taught elementary school in California and New Mexico.  On a trip in her later thirtie’s to France, she encountered

 

While in her mid-thirties, Deirdre traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years.   Soon her path led to her becoming a novice nun and then receiving full ordination with the name Ani Pema Chodron.  Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey.

 

I think this Western nun’s philosophy towards finding mindfulness in our own living is best summed up in her book titles:  “Start Where You Are”; “Comfortable with Uncertainty”; “The Wisdom of No Escape – How to Love Yourself and Your World”; “Living Beautifully”.  Her philosophy is simple, direct, and true:  “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

 

To be mindful is simply, quite simply, to be aware.  I referenced a baby learning to walk.  The child will fall several times and yet, the wisdom in getting up and trying again is the key.  We learn to walk not because of any first time success but because when we fall, we get back up and try again.  With each unsuccessful attempt, we gain knowledge.  We become aware.  We learn to be mindful of how to balance and then take that first successful step.  Blessed are the children who fall because they learn to get back up.

 

Nun and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron encourages us to view our world, being mindful of the lessons found in it.  “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. … If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”  Then and truly then, will we become mindful in our own living.

From Victim to Victorious

From Victim to Victorious

Lent 16-17

 

He was born a Roman citizen to parents Conchessa and Calpurnius.  The Roman Empire extended from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and his home was not near Rome but in the Roman British lands.  As a young teen he was kidnapped and forced into child labor by pirates.  The life was hard and unfair – the makings for a deep need to extract violence as payback and yet …

 

The Romans probably had little idea of who they were conquering when they invaded Britain and Ireland.  The Celtic and Druid culture centered on their pagan gods and goddesses and magic was an integral part of their beliefs, a magic that the Romans believed came not from good but evil.  The Romans destroyed the Celtic and Druids’ religious sites and when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, many Britons converted.  

 

It was to this culture that a child named Patrick was born.  The exact location is disputed but we know he was born an aristocrat.  His family was second-generation Christians and Patrick was well educated.  One fateful day he and his father’s servants were taken prisoner and his life changed dramatically.  In an instant he went from living a life of luxury to that of servitude and despair.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom.”  The first Beatitude seems contradictory and, let’s face it, a bit defeatist.  Do I have to be in dire straits to win the prize?  Certainly the millions who purchase lottery tickets might argue with that reasoning since seldom do any win.  I know of no other human living or deceased whose life portrays this Beatitude better than that of Patrick, the saint whose day is celebrated today.

 

It is said that Patrick believed “If I have any worth, it is to live my life, so as to teach these peoples, even though some of them still look down on me.”  Today his life will be celebrated worldwide with the wearing of green, symbolic of the country from which the pirates who enslaved him sailed and the country to which he returned to share his faith and spirituality.

 

Patrick wrote that he saw his escape in a dream and he did indeed escape and return to his family.  He did remain in Britain, however.  He would return to minister to the Irish and to share his creed for living.  His life remains shrouded in mystery with many things attributed to him, including the banishment of all snakes from Ireland.  What is known is that in the midst of his troubles and captivity, Patrick found solace in his beliefs and faith.  “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s host to secure me against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.”

 

You might argue that someone with such conviction was never truly “poor in spirit” and I would understand that interpretation. I would offer, nonetheless, that there were days in which Patrick sorely felt downtrodden and exhausted and in that, his physical spirit did indeed seem poor. 

 

He serves to represent to me a living testament of how although we might be victims of another’s cause, we alone control the effect it has on us.  The man known as Saint Patrick, in whose honor many will celebrate today with parades and parties, wanted us all to find strength in our faith and beliefs.  We truly inherit the kingdom when we live with such assurance.  We all are victims, at one time or another, of something beyond our control.  With conviction, though, we can write a life story that, like Patrick’s, will be victorious, not just for ourselves but for others. 

Life Relatable

Life Relatable

Lent 10

 

Not having been there at the time the Beatitudes were originally said, I do not know for sure why they were ever spoken.  However, I think it safe to surmise that they were felt to be pertinent and important for the audience to hear.  While they were uttered almost two thousand years ago, I do think they are still relatable.  Today, I am featuring a guest post, written by a college student several years ago.  In it this student explains why the Beatitudes are just as pertinent today as when they were first spoken.  Life was messy then.  Life is messy now, regardless of who we are.

 

“Sometimes I just can’t relate to the Bible. To be clear, I like the Bible. The stories are engaging, scandalous, and funny (well, if you can decipher 1st century humor), with good morals and memorable characters. So while I do like the Bible, I don’t always feel like I can relate to it. I have little in common with the authors: kings and prophets sent to inspire the masses with divine intervention when things got rough. I don’t know about you, but I’m no prophet. I’m barely a king.

 

“So while I do like the Bible, often when I read it I do so as though I would read a novel about Afghanistan or an article about outer space: a interesting story about a different world that I will never see. The story may be real, but it is very far away, the people are not like me, and the surroundings are not familiar—while I may have sympathy, I cannot have empathy. It is like a news report that I read, murmur a judgment on, and discard, already forgotten, as I move on to the next. However, in today’s passage from Psalm 44, the saints and martyrs with whom I have nothing in common are gone. In their place is a scared, lonely, confused individual, someone who is struggling to understand why God is so silent while they are suffering. This is a very human passage written by a very vulnerable human. This is a passage I can relate to.

 

“Lent is a funny time, but it is necessary. We spend so much of our lives pretending that everything’s okay, masking our pain and confusion, thinking that everyone else seems to have life figured out, so we should, too. However, I believe that it is in being truly vulnerable that we find our greatest strength. It is in letting others see just how scared, lonely, and confused we really are that we allow them to do the same. Once we let each other in behind the walls of confidence and brave faces only then can we truly begin to build each other up, to rely on each other. If you get a chance these next 40 days of Lent, be vulnerable. It’s scary, and uncomfortable, and takes far more faith than you would imagine. It’s what Lent is all about. Be vulnerable. After all, isn’t that something we can all relate to?”

 

I think the Beatitudes are pertinent because they are words we can all relate to and understand.  They speak of misery, of pain, of unfulfilled goals and yet, within each of those things, there is hope and a reason to forge ahead through life’s messes.  Few of us are kings and even fewer prophets and yet, we all get scared, lonely, discouraged.  By keeping our faith, we can find the strength to carry on with our living and discover success.  More on the treasure hunt of life in the next post.  Until then, be vulnerable.  It is something we all find relatable.