Sighs, Growls, and Yields

Sighs and Growls and Yields

Detours in Life

Pentecost 4

 

Most of us tend to either sigh or growl when our smooth path in life is certainly diverted to a detour.  Look up synonyms for the word “detour” and those sighs and growls are easily understood.  A detour is the long way around, a deviation, roundabout or indirect route,  a pain in the … well, you know.  Very few of us encounter a detour and go “Yippee!”  Maybe we should.

 

We like to begin our day with an agenda, a plan for getting done all that needs to be done.  We might have a to-do list; we certainly have obligations to meet.  We develop a course of action and then we proceed on it.  Life, however, has other ideas and turns our well-ordered day planning into chaos.  In short, we have to take a detour.

 

We all too often think of detours as stop signs.  We need to recognize that detours are really opportunities, diversions to look at life more fully.  When I began this series, I had it all planned out.  The series will encompass over one hundred and eighty articles but I had it all worked out.  Whew!  Then a family member’s surgery, the death of a close friend, some technical issues (Updates are really exercises in patience, I’ve decided!), and weather delays made mush out of my carefully calculated series.  In short, I found myself on a detour.  And I did not like it.

 

Detours are diversion, not stop signs and yet, we tend to treat them as if they were.  Stop signs are not the end of everything, either.  A stop sign means you got from point A to point B and need to take a moment to look around before proceeding to point C.  Nothing more, nothing less is indicated by a stop sign.  It is not failure but rather a sign of progression.  A dead end street does not need a stop sign; it simply ends.

 

Another sign one encounters on the road is a yield sign.  Usually we are happy when we come upon a yield sign because it means we don’t have to come to a complete stop every time.  We can simply merge into the traffic, providing the path is clear.  I live in a town with a great many yield signs and I cannot think of one that has not been the scene of at least one traffic accident. 

 

All too often we simply merge into the mainstream of flow without really looking at where we are going.  We “go with the flow” but do we really know or care where the flow is headed?  Life is too important to simply merge into the masses.  We need to take the time to stop and discover who we really are and what we really want.  My detour with this series did just that for me.

 

My first detour sign was realizing my own aggravation and frustration that was a bit excessive.  I needed to relax and take a break.  I decided to color, a long favorite activity that has become a great stress reliever.  However, IO began to pressure myself to create a perfect picture.  I copied a picture to color and, instead of trying to make it perfect, I attempted to make it creative.    Jeff and Joan Stanford run a retreat and Joan has some great thoughts about our need for taking a detour and exploring play.  “Connecting to creativity is essential to our health… Coloring within the lines is relaxing but the power lies in creating, in discovering and expressing inner imagery.”  In short, there is power when we take a detour.

 

Sylvia Boorstein was recently interviewed by Michael McConnell for an article entitled “What to Do When Your Mind Starts to Growl” in the most recent issue of Spirituality and Health Magazine.  I purchased the issue for a peace on praying, and then discovered an article on mindfulness.  Life interrupted my reading until my sudden detour for this series had me cleaning up.  In this article Boorstein comments:  “People can get tunnel vision and get very clear about what will or won’t work in a given situation…It’s actually good to have a mind that growls so you can figure out what needs to be done.”

 

My detour had me growling and sighing and then I began to think, ponder and relax.  Within that relaxation I found the beauty of my detour and began enjoying the diversion.  The detour sign was leading me to new experiences and new pathways.  It was not a sign of failure but one of change.  That is what detours are, after all.  They represent growth.  My growling and sighing are sign of growth, not failure. 

 

It important to remember is that our lives are too important to live them merging into the masses.  We are unique and wonderfully created individuals.  We need to explore and celebrate our detours for what they are – an opening for better living, necessary growth, and brighter prospects for the future.

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

Easter #32-35

 

We all know those friends who firmly believe that misery loves company.  They are the ones who seem to thrive on drama and simply cannot wait to share their latest event that has occurred in their lives.  Part of being a friend is listening but sometimes friendship is a one-way street with all the sharing being done by the other person.

 

Often a person who is abaitual whiner is someone who is best listened to and ignored.  Sometimes just being there and then giving them some space to work through their latest incident is all that is desired.  A hug or simple hand squeeze can also work wonders.

 

Sharing anxiety is not generally a way for someone to control your own emotions.  However, we need to be certain that we do not, in the guise of being a good friend or coworker, buy someone else’s problems nor fall prey to their panic.  It has become fashionable to use drama to make one seem important and that is sad, in my opinion.  Coping with issues does not improve someone’s esteem; living so that you do have control over issues does.

 

So how do we control our reactions when a friend simply has to “rant” or talk about their latest difficulty?  A mindfulness expert and spiritualist, Thich Nhat Hanh, has some great advice and it uses something as simple as a facial half-smile.

 

Anytime or place you find yourself affected by someone’s expressed anxieties as well as life’s curveballs in your own life, simply make a half-smile with your mouth.  Nhat Hanh advises to look at “anything which is relatively still and smile.”  Maintain the spot of your attention as you own true nature.”

 

Music is a great way to escape and cope with anxiety.  It is especially easy with today’s technology to listen to music for two or three minutes practically anywhere.  If the piece is instrumental, listen to the different instrumentations.  Whether pop or operatic, focusing on the words is another way to zoom in on the mindfulness of the moment.  The tempo, style, and/or rhythms also help convey the sentiment of the music.  Allow your mind to concentrate on that and then focus on your breathing to help discover calmness and peace.

 

When you realize you are becoming anxious or irritated, half-smile; then slowly inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining the half-smile for three breaths.  Relax for a minute or two and then repeat this.   Breathing is a well-known way to pace one’s emotions.  Combine it with walking or slow deliberate arm or hand movements.  Once you have combined your movement with your breathing, you can lengthen you inhalations for twenty to thirty seconds and then return to a normal breathing pattern. 

 

We cannot control life or what people relate to us but we can control our responses.  When we act instead of reacting to the drama of life and those around us, we are able to reduce the anxiety that often seems contagious.  By using mindfulness, we are able to act.

 

If you can, find the time to sit in silence and imagine a leaf drifting slowing through the air as it descends.  Allow yourself to slowly imagine yourself coming to a gentle resting place on the earth (or chair or bed).  Continue meditating on the lead as it gradually comes to eath, allowing your mind and body to also arrive at a place of rest, a place of calm and joy.

 

Being mindful and present in a place of peace and joy is the perfect response when someone disrupts your calm.  We can and should be compassionate with others buy we should not buy their problems.  To offer calm and peace is a gift we give to others and ourselves by being mindful of the joy of living. 

Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Easter 24

 

In this day and age when we have technology which can help us proclaim our individuality, many hide instead.  For instance, many people utilize the Internet to write every day about personal doings, preferences, style, etc.  These web logs, commonly known as blogs, reach billions each day since there are an estimated 354 million blogs worldwide, this being one of them.  Yet, even with such technology, instead of emphasizing individuality, it has made many of us lemmings.

 

Lemmings are mammals that live as locusts, those winged insects that can strip a habitat bare, wreaking the same destruction to an environment as a plague.  The thing about lemmings is that they follow the group without forethought.  Thus, the word lemming is also a term used to describe someone who joins a movement without proper consideration. 

 

Generally speaking, human lemmings are one of many, lost in a crowd.  The use of the word in this manner describes a person who has forsaken mindfulness.  They are living with no originality and have silenced their own voice.  It takes courage to be one’s true self, to show our uniqueness to the world.

 

In his book “The Crown of Individuality” William George Jordan writes:  “The supreme courage of life is the courage of the soul.  It is living day by day, sincerely – despite all opinions, all obstacles, all opposition.  It means the vine of inspiration comes from the crushed grapes of our sorrows.

 

“This courage makes the simple life great; it makes the greatest life, sublime.  It means the royal dignity of fine individual living… Every man [or being] reigns a king [or queen] over … self.  He [She] wears the crown of individuality that no hands … can remove.”

 

Mindfulness reminds us to be our true self, our best self, our highest self, our self victorious.  We are all wonderfully created unique – no one better than another, just different, unique and special.  A box of crayons all the same color would be boring and dull.  Diversity and uniqueness create life.  With mindfulness we can break out of the cocoon of sameness and soar above the crowd to discover our own beauty and true life.

Laughter is Good Medicine

Laughter is Good Medicine

Easter 21

 

“Being mindful is just pointing out all the bad stuff” someone wrote.  Being a firm believer of mindfulness, it might surprise you that I completely understand this reader’s sentiment.  Many of us go through our daily life in a fog so as to keep from having to recognize the reality.  Mindfulness brings a great deal of that to light but seeing and acknowledging our dismay is not all that mindfulness is.  It is only half of the practice.

 

Being able to see the humor in our situations in life is critical to living a healthy life.  Yesterday I remarked about the irony of a book about grace falling down in front of me.  The corner of the book had actually caught my arm and, being a new book, made a very slight nick in my skin.  Being able to see the humor in the situation, though, actually enabled the small cut to heal faster because I laughed.

 

You read that correctly.  Laughing, science tells us, can actually be the best medicine in some situations.  Ten years ago science revealed evidence that laughter helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. In other words, it’s good for your heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood. At a 2005 meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Michael Miller, M.D., of the University of Maryland reported that in a study of 20 healthy people, provoking laughter did as much good for their arteries as aerobic activity. Dr. Miller did not recommend that you laugh and not exercise but he did advise that we should try to laugh on a regular basis. The endothelium, he explained, regulates blood flow and adjusts the propensity of blood to coagulate and clot. In addition, it secretes assorted chemicals in response to wounds, infection or irritation. It also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.  “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries,” said Dr. Miller. “So given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium. And reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

 

Dr. Miller also recommends laughter as a great tonic for other ailments.  “Laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”  The researcher can’t say for sure exactly how laughter delivers its heart benefit. It could come from the vigorous movement of the diaphragm muscles as you chuckle or guffaw. Alternatively, or additionally, laughter might trigger the release in the brain of such hormones as endorphins that have an effect on arteries.  It’s also possible that laughter boosts levels of nitric oxide in artery walls. Nitric oxide is known to play a role in the dilation of the endothelium. “Perhaps mental stress leads to a breakdown in nitric oxide or inhibits a stimulus to produce nitric oxide that results in vasoconstriction.”

 

It has been known for some time that laughter reduced one’s perception of pain, thus enabling a person to tolerate discomfort better.  It also reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and nondiabetics alike.  Laughter can improve your job performance, especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems. Its role in intimate relationships is vastly underestimated and it really is the glue of good marriages. It synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned.  Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together.

 

Life is messy.  That is a fact and no matter who we are, we will face the “bad stuff” at some point.  Being able to see the humor enables us to cope and move forward.  Dr. Miller advises people to do some sort of physical exercise thirty minutes a week and to laugh fifteen minutes every day.  This reminds us to not only be mindful of our physical health but also our emotional health. 

 

“I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, MA, CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist. “They might be healthier too.”  As weird as it might sound, laughter is really a physical exercise for our bodies and our spirits.  When we laugh we go through some physiological changes.  We stretch muscles throughout the face and body, our pulse and blood pressure rises slightly and we tend to breathe faster.  This sends more oxygen to our tissues within the body which in turn creates a series of positive chain reactions.

 

Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.  Now do not get carried away and think you can laugh off excess weight.  After all, it would take about twelve hours of laughing to counteract the effect of eating one chocolate bar.  Still, laughing is beneficial.

 

The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Research does not verify Cousins’ belief that laughter was the tonic for his insomnia, however,  Many believe a drama could have done the same thing and that anything that takes one’s mind off the day’s worries would have been effective.  Does this disprove the benefits of mindfulness?  No.  It does emphasize that our reactions to life are very important.

 

One of the difficulties science has in determining just how effective laughter is as medicine is that the cause and effect are hard to narrow down.  Two things are known for certain.  Laughter brings us together and since human beings are social animals, this improves their quality of life.  Secondly, appropriate laughter is not a harmful thing and if you enjoy, one should keep laughing.  Enjoying life is the best medicine of all.

Get Busy

 

Get Busy

 

Easter 20

 

 

 

I adore books.  Whether it is at a tag sale, a consignment shop, a library or a bookstore, books just seem to call out to me.  On occasion, I apparently call out to them as well.  You see, it is not unusual for a book to simply and quite literally fall at my feet.  When that happens, I usually find that within the books are little tokens of wisdom at a time when I most needed it.  So now, whenever a book seems to fly off a shelf or table, I go on a literary surprise hunt and get busy learning.

 

 

 

“The Unmistakable Touch of Grace” by Cheryl Richardson is one of those books that literally dropped into my life via the top of my head.  I was sitting in the coffee shop of a local bookstore when an employee rolled a cart passed our table with stacks of books on it.  The top book dropped onto our table after bouncing on my head.  The paperback didn’t hurt,; it just startled me.  Then we all laughed at the irony of the ungracefulness of a book about grace.  The book looked interesting and I ended up taking it home.

 

 

 

At home, my book about grace slipped of my bed, this time due to the antics of a very large dog.  It landed on the floor open to this passage:  “As painful as they may be, some of our most difficult relationships hold the promise of our greatest healing.  When you learn to see your relationships in this way, you might discover that the friend who constantly took advantage of you, did so (on a spiritual level) to challenge you to stick up for yourself.”

 

 

 

Mindfulness and this passage have a great deal in common.  Tikun-olam is a Hebrew concept which means “Improve the world”.  Mindfulness encourages us to do that very same thing and the above passage lets us know we can do that even in the midst of our darkest time.

 

 

 

Mindfulness teaches us to never take our living for granted.  Each minute not only counts, it is a lesson for us.  It is very easy to savor the good times but unless we get busy and learn to savor the negative experiences, we are prone to repeat them time and time again. 

 

 

 

Recently I was taken advantage of and it hurt, especially since I had just given this person an expensive gift.  About a minute into my own little pity party, I suddenly remembered to be mindful of the big picture. I realize that I was more proud of my actions and generosity than I was hurt.  After all, I cannot and should not want to control others.  I can only dictate my own actions.  By practicing mindfulness, I realized an inner peace and calming of the soul. 

 

 

 

When you find yourself in those dark hours or hearing that negative voice, take a moment and get bust being mindful of the complete moment, what preceded it and then realize what will make the future better.  When we get busy with savoring life our life, we will realize the beauty of its being.

 

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.

The Next Step

The Next Step

Easter 7

 

Okay so let’s say you have really thought about the last hour and fully been in the moments of each of those sixty minutes.  You fully experienced that sip of beverage and felt is as it entered and then followed its course through your throat.  You smelled that bite of food before partaking it and then thought about the texture and taste instead of gulping it down in a hurry.  You felt that air on your skin as you walked outside and heard the ambient sounds around you.  What comes next?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and human rights activist, who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. His books include “Being Peace”.  Nhat Hanh describes the process as being mindful as much more than just thinking about things.  “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.

 

“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness—you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.

 

“The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.

 

Nhat Hanh believes we are all entitled to being happy.  Many people do not.  They would rather wallow in their self-pity because it seems comfortable to them.  The next step after you have been mindful for an hour is to be brave and practice mindfulness for a day. 

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking – not only the talking outside, but the talking inside. The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on and on inside. Real silence is the cessation of talking – of both the mouth and of the mind. This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us. It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful kind of silence. It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.”

 

The next step is to believe you deserve the right to be happy and let the silence teach you.  Listen ot the advice of this monk.  “Mindfulness practice should be enjoyable, not work or effort. Do you have to make an effort to breathe in? You don’t need to make an effort. To breathe in, you just breathe in. Suppose you are with a group of people contemplating a beautiful sunset. Do you have to make an effort to enjoy the beautiful sunset? No, you don’t have to make any effort. You just enjoy it.  The same thing is true with your breath. Allow your breath to take place. Become aware of it and enjoy it. –  Effortlessness; Enjoyment. The same thing is true with walking mindfully. Every step you take is enjoyable. Every step helps you to touch the wonders of life, in yourself and around you. Every step is peace. Every step is joy. That is possible.”  When you achieve that, then your step will be one of joy.