Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How to be Wisely Positive...

    A student in my meditation class said that she strived to always be positive and struggled with thinking about life’s negativities.  Her remark alluded to, what I suspect, is many people’s coping strategy in a world that is increasingly overrun by outspoken negativity and discord, and outlandish fear.  But is it wise to willfully blinder our full view of life?

   Without a doubt, an optimistic outlook is an extremely good habit to develop.  Thinking positively and filling our hearts and minds with a cheerful attitude is beneficial to our overall well-being: we feel happier, calmer, and more peaceful.   And if you ARE going to think, then it is certainly a wiser use of time to supplant rumination, recrimination, and resentment with thoughts of forgiveness, tolerance, and kindness. This is the aim of meditation practices.

     Believing, however, that a positive mind state is achieved by avoiding life’s unpleasant or painful experiences is diametrically opposite to both life and meditation’s goals -- to awaken and cut through ignorance. In other words, in life and meditation we are training the mind to grow wise and skillful in dealing with life situations.  Why then do we struggle to openly face all of life’s experiences?

     Our unconscious habit is to shift away from discomfort and to gravitate towards comfort. 

     When I awoke this morning, the house temperature was around 58 degrees Fahrenheit or 12 degrees Celsius.  I turned on the tap, and I felt ice cold water hit my cupped hands.  Without a thought, I turned the handle towards the hot water side.  We do these kinds of actions constantly throughout our day: if we are cold, we turn on the heat or add layers; if we are hungry, we immediately reach for a snack; if our body tightens up sitting in one position, we shift our weight; if we have an itch, we scratch it.   This is not to say we should not enjoy life’s pleasures or make ourselves comfortable.  The point is our tendency is to only want pleasant experiences and to avoid unpleasant ones.  

    We are constantly judging and challenging our experiences:  thinking that a situation is wrong or shouldn’t be happening causes us to suffer and be stressed out.  We try to prevent unwanted experiences from occurring by scheming, worrying, and resisting, but they occur nevertheless.

    Life has good and bad experiences.

    We can’t control what arises, but we can control how we think about it.  We are empowered when we acknowledge the things we struggle with, because the willingness and ability to clearly see the issue at hand prepares us to deal with it.  When we know, we can’t be broadsided.  Moreover, it is only in actually forging through a challenge that we discover our resilience and strength. 

     A genuinely positive mindset is the result of being aware of life’s pain and being able to skillfully deal with it. 
We train the mind to be optimistic and simultaneously clear-seeing:
·       By observing our own mind.  With a gentle gaze, we attend to our own challenging unpleasant habits.  Pay attention to the arising of unbidden feelings and thoughts such as resentment, jealousy, fear, greed, and their effect on our mood.  
·         Sitting meditation provides the space to begin to notice emotions and thoughts that habitually rattle around in us, but may be overlooked because we are constantly busy.
 ·         Meditative reflection allows us to witness the fleeting nature of our emotions and thoughts.  Seeing their transience, we are empowered to persevere, to be humorous, to strongly face the challenge, and to be vigilant for when they next surface. 

     Acknowledgement and acceptance of the good and bad in life cultivates mental and emotional stability and lessens our judgmental mindset.  Experiencing life in all its complexity from a centered, open perspective is the wisest, most genuinely positive way to live a happy, peaceful life.

     May you see clearly with a positive mind and heart.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Creating Stillness of Heart & Mind

     It’s a new year.  And time for resolutions. 
     My resolution is -- to be quiet.
     As a talkative person who began speaking before the age of one, this is going to be quite the challenge.  For months now I’ve been feeling the need for greater stillness and silence in my life, but it’s not been easy to break this habit of chatting.  
     However, there’s nothing like a strong incentive!  And I just received a spur to silence.
     A friend and I were on the phone discussing our group of friend’s aborted New Year plans.  In the run up to this holiday trip, I had become the de facto liaison between the various parties.  In the relay back and forth of people’s wishes, desires and wants people became upset.  I find myself in the unenviable position of being blamed for plans falling apart.
     So I can delay no longer.  It's time to honour the yearning for stillness!
     To break a habit, we have to establish new ground rules or failing that, create some distance from the things and situations that encourage our habit.   Support systems quite naturally coalesce around our habits and ensure their perpetuation.  For instance, at social gatherings, especially with family and friends, our habits are nourished because we all unconsciously role-play our designated parts. In my case, because I’m gregarious, quiet people tend to rely on me to carry on conversations and keep the “party going”.  
     So it becomes imperative when trying to make changes that we examine our lives and lifestyles to determine the existing support systems that keep us playing the roles we no longer want to maintain.  Forging a new habit will necessarily require new ways of engaging or less frequent engagements.
     The advantages to being silent are manifold.
    Silence enhances our senses.  A few months ago I went on my first trip to Hawaii.  On the first morning there, I noticed something I hadn’t realized I’d unconsciously been paying attention to. After meditating, I began my other practices which I had typed on paper.  As I picked up the pages, I was struck by their muted sound.  In Hawaii’s humid air, the papers had absorbed so much moisture that their characteristic hard crackling sound was completely transformed. Not only was the sound of the paper different, its texture had changed too; it felt soft and velvety and almost leathery in my hands. 
    In stillness - stillness of the mind, body and speech - the mind becomes attentive to such subtleties.   When the mouth stops moving, our sensory consciousnesses expand.
     A very important benefit to speaking less is that it creates the space to notice our thoughts and bodily feelings.  We are constantly receiving signals of what’s going on mentally and emotionally for us, but because our attention is turned outward in conversation, we often miss them.
     Listening to our thoughts and feelings helps us interact skillfully both socially and with ourselves.  This mindful attention to our thoughts and feelings calms the nervous system, and helps us be present and non judgmental. 
     To maintain this new habit of being silent, ask yourself the following questions before speaking:
1.       Am I going to improve the silence by speaking?
     2.      What of value am I contributing by sharing now?
      If you can’t refrain from commenting, then write out your feelings and thoughts instead of speaking them.  When you calm down, go back and read what you wrote; it will reveal how much wiser it was to be silent. 
     Journaling is a powerful way of processing our emotions and thoughts.  It can also provide helpful kinder ways of sharing our feelings. 
     I think I’ve given myself and hopefully you too enough reason to speak less and thereby increase your inner peace and calm.
     May your 2018 be filled with love, happiness and stillness of heart and mind.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I wish you a Mindful, Peaceful, 
and Joyful Holiday Season.

May 2018 bring you all your heart's desire!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Here's Something for You

     Reports of the many disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, civil wars, famines, and ethnic cleansings that are bombarding us with requests to donate, volunteer, sign petitions, or call congress are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.  
   I've just completed a fund-raising drive to combat world hunger and chronic malnutrition, so I was one of those people asking you to give your money and time for a worthy cause. 
   Borrowing a guiding principle from yoga, where every posture is counter-balanced with a posture in the opposite direction, in this article instead of asking I’m going to give.
    I now want to thank each and every one of you for your effort, however large or small, that you make in your everyday life to contribute to the sanity, peace, respect, and harmony in this world.
    To my readers, followers, friends, family, acquaintances, students, and all the people with whom you so generously share my articles, and to the donors, rescue workers, medics, and neighbours, who every day come to the aid of all living beings, I thank you for your effort in helping to increase the light in this world, for opening your hearts, pockets and homes, and for easing the pain and distress of those who need a hand up now.
     I rejoice in your arms-flung-wide response to relieving the suffering in this world.
     May your kindness and compassion manifest with abundance beyond your wildest imaginings.
   [Incidentally the walk was a success as we raised a significant amount for Hurricane Relief efforts plus the education and feeding of children around the world.]  
     My deepest thanks to you and yours.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Unpacking Mindfulness Meditation

     When I sat down to write this month’s article, I was intent on having it coalesce around the idea of food justice, food as a weapon of war, and the greed and power that contributes to, if not creates worldwide hunger; my reason was primarily because I’m in the midst of organizing the San JoseWalk to Feed the Hungry.  But I really struggled to remain unemotional.  

     Instead I ended up writing this article on mindfulness meditation.  Deconstructing this popular and much-researched meditation technique also served to remind me of the power in this seemingly simple meditation.  Many of you’ve heard or know something about it, and perhaps have even learned and practised it.  I’d like to share with you my take on this profound meditation technique.
     I’ll conclude with hints on, to use a modern word, “hacking” your life to greater mindfulness.
     Mindfulness meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition. Its main components are: first, it is a meditation.  This means you have to actually experience it and not just study it.  Second, it is a practice and as such you need to do it daily or at least often enough to begin reaping benefits.

A moment of pure awareness
    Mindfulness is awareness.  Awareness of something you see, hear, smell, and so on in the moment before you identify or label it.  This is a particular kind of awareness:  it is knowing or noticing in a detached manner. Typically such awareness is extremely brief, a flash really. 

     The way we mostly go through life now is unconsciously judging all our life experiences.  Either we hate something and want it to end immediately, or we love a thing and desperately wish it to last forever.  Our lives are characterized by this pervasive dissatisfaction.  We rarely experience pure awareness that’s separate from our desires, dislikes, and disinterests.  The aim of practicing mindfulness meditation is to increase the duration of pure awareness. 
     Right now, you are probably thinking, is this doable?  Yes!  True, the mind can’t conceive of another way of being because it is accustomed to its current operating mode. Just as the habit of wishing for things to be different was honed over a long time, so too can the tendency to impartially observe our life experiences.  
     It takes effort, discipline, and commitment. As with all worthwhile ventures, when you know your reason for undertaking such an endeavor it makes it easier to commit to it.
     The first thing you do is train the mind to be aware of just one thing.  If that sounds contradictory, I suppose it is.  But if the mind were allowed to be aware of everything unfolding in the moment, it is easy for it to get lost and wander aimlessly.  So an entire meditation session can pass by with you fantasizing and ruminating.  There are open awareness meditations that use the above technique, but they are difficult for beginners to do. 
     Therefore to keep the mind from being swept away by discursive thought, we train it to pay attention to one thing.  By giving it an object to constantly return to, it becomes attentive.  When the awareness and attention are working together, the awareness will notice the object (for example, breath or a flame) and the attention will keep it on the object.  More importantly, when the attention wanders away, the awareness notices and nudges the attention back to the object.    
     The repetition of this pattern calms the mind.  When the mind calms down, the body relaxes.  Currently, our thoughts drift from one thing to another without awareness.  As a result of this mindlessness, we don’t notice the corresponding tension created in our bodies and minds by our thoughts.  Our anxiety, worry, fear, pain, and anger are increased because we aren’t aware of the interconnectedness of our body and mind. 
     Mindfulness meditation brings to the surface of our awareness the deeper inner workings of mind and body.  Such awareness also grows emotional intelligence and social competence.

Daily activities you can do more mindfully:
1.      Sound of your keys:  every time you pick up your keys, let the sound remind you to notice you are breathing.
2.      Put a mindfulness app on your phone which will gong to remind you to pay attention to your surroundings, your thoughts, and your feelings.
3.      Every door handle (car, house, mailbox) you touch, set the intention that you’ll stop and breathe.  This is especially helpful at the end of a hard day’s work.  As you turn the handle on your front door, breathe, drop your worries, and then enter.
4.      Before you hit the send button on your email, stop and breathe three times to slow yourself down.  This will prevent you from sending something prematurely or when you are upset.

     I hope the break down of this meditation technique will empower you to mindfully go through life increasing your own and others' joy.  If you’d like to learn mindfulness meditation, I teach at CACE on 23 September 2017 and through my own business Acceptance Healing (email me). 

     May your awareness grow from moment to moment. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Conversation about Gossip

Before you speak, always ask yourself:
“is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”
The Buddha

     How does gossip differ from conversation? The distinction may seem too obvious to warrant deeper analysis.  However, even if we are quite clear on the difference, it doesn’t hurt to clarify again what we already know.  For e.g. a silver vase left untouched on a shelf for years on end will tarnish unless it’s polished again, so too does our understanding of things we already know.  Therefore a re-view of what we know is essential to keeping our mind alert, open and bright.  By doing this, understanding shifts from being merely intellectual to becoming experiential.
     In our everyday interactions, we can easily slip from conversation to gossip without awareness.  Gossiping’s most insidious danger is that it can so easily masquerade as normal everyday conversation.
     Last weekend a friend came to visit.  We are two women who are intensely curious about life, and we thoroughly enjoy debating and discussing religion, politics, literature and travel.  Of course, we both also share common friends.  After hours of chatting from Friday afternoon late into the evening, I awoke Saturday morning startled and ashamed to realise that we’d ended up gossiping about a friend.    
     Our socialized upbringing inculcates in us the protocol of following up a greeting with a query into a person’s health and life situation. We do this when we are face to face with someone, and if we share mutual acquaintances, friends or family then we also often ask after people who aren’t present.  
     And therein lies the danger.  The seamless transition from curiosity and even perhaps healthy human interest in another person’s well-being can quickly devolve to tittle tattle.  Gossip doesn't only happen in face to face interactions, but can also occur in social media and email settings.
     Webster’s dictionary defines gossip as casual unconstrained conversation about someone else involving details that may be unconfirmed.  We often think that gossip is only saying bad things about a person, sharing private information and lying about the person.  But gossip is also speculating, wondering about, analyzing and judging someone else, and then sharing those mental cogitations and opinions with others. 

       Ironically even if we enjoy listening to gossip, we don’t like to be thought of or think of ourselves as gossip mongers.  This is because it harms the speaker, the listener, and the subject of gossip.  It makes the gossip monger a pariah and untrustworthy; it poisons the mind of the listener, and can destroy the reputation and good standing of the subject.  The effect of gossip spreads quickly like one tiny drop of black dye in a bucket of clean water, it tints and taints all of the water.

     So how do we undo this destructive habit?
     The “I” word is paramount – Intention.  Know your intention for speaking about someone else.  Sometimes you really do need to solicit confidential advice from another person regarding someone you are concerned about.  But you have to be absolutely clear on your intention for speaking about the other person.  To check your motivation, ask yourself: 
1.      Will I say this to the person’s face?
2.      Will this hurt that person?
3.      Is this true?
4.      Is this necessary?
5.      Is it helpful?
     The second important step is to become alert and mindful during the conversation to catch when the discussion is slipping into the danger zone.  So then you must:
1.       Listen to yourself and the person with whom you are speaking.  Notice the types of questions being asked and recurring topics.  Determine if these are simply creating or enlarging an unconfirmed story about someone else.
2.      When you are on your own, try to become aware of your own thoughts.  This is particularly important if you have an issue with someone.  Do your best not to ruminate and replay conversations in your head.   Ruminations entrench a story line in your mind about the person, and cause you to speak about him/her at the first opportunity, especially if someone else has a problem with that same person.

Gossiping isn’t an easy habit to break.  But it is a habit and as such it can be worked on.  Even if we don’t totally eradicate the habit, our consistent effort to avoid it will be hugely beneficial.  So the next time you sit down with a friend for a catch up - on the phone or in person - be mindful of your speech and aware of your intention.
Know that if you’ve formed a friendship around gossiping, then this change in your behavior could impact that relationship.  It may leave you open to becoming the brunt of gossip.  Here again your motivation for changing this unhealthy habit will help you negotiate your path forward to happier and kinder way of living.
When we are rejoicing and genuinely happy for someone's success and appreciative of their good qualities, then even though we may be speaking about the person, it isn't gossip. 
May you always speak with awareness and kindness.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ending the Habit of Envying

What goes through your mind when you think of or look at someone who has power, status, money, good looks, and talent?  What feelings course through your being?  Take a moment now and contemplate those questions…

If you desire what they have, you envy them.  Envy is being unhappy at another person’s success, and consequently feeling sad because we think we are deficient or lacking. This habit can lead to depression. 

It can also lead us to do and think horrible things.  We will hate their success, and wish for them to fail.  To make ourselves feel better, we will denigrate or insult the person who has what we want, or we’ll boast and praise ourselves.  
Envy breeds comparison and competition in us.  We compare ourselves to someone and think that person’s life is the way we imagine it.  No one’s life is without struggles and problems, but under the influence of envy, our mind becomes deluded and we think how their lives appear to us is the reality.

We don’t just envy anybody.  We envy the people who possess some limited scarce resource that we covet.  This makes us competitive.  Envy’s destruction isn’t limited to other people, it harms us too.  We can end up hating ourselves as much as we do the other person.

My 12 year old nephew was telling me that he and his friends were going to the mall on Saturday, and that they were going to be there as soon as it opened.  They needed to be first in line to get these very popular white sneakers which sold out quickly.  He said that they’d learned the stores wouldn’t put out additional sneakers once the first batch was sold.  Listening to him, I could tell how important it was for them to be the ones who owned these much-desired, limited-stock shoes.

You can see how exhausting this constant competing and comparing can be.  The habit of envying is a poison that destroys our ability to appreciate ourselves, and to see the value in our own lives.  
To reverse the negativity and corrosiveness of envy, try to :
1.       Pay attention to what is going well in your life:  you have pets, friends and loved ones who care for you, you have a home that’s comfortable and safe, a job that brings in a paycheck, things you are good at and admired for, and the support of people who’ve helped you in your career.
For example,  the next time you are in a queue or traffic jam, instead of cursing that fact, consider that if these people weren’t here too, this shop or freeway wouldn’t have been built.  It is precisely because there were so many people who needed it, that you can now also get to shop there or can quickly (most of the time) travel to places you need to. So it is the contribution of all these strangers that is bringing value to your life as well.  
2.      rejoice when someone else gets the thing you ALSO wanted :  the co-worker who is promoted, or the friend who wins the lottery. Rejoicing may not be easy and not feel authentic in the beginning, but keep persevering and with practise it will become a genuine feeling.  This will create a good habit.
3.      rejoice in your successes and abilities.  And don’t forget to celebrate your willingness to break free from the destructive habit of envy.   

  When you celebrate someone else’s triumphs, you benefit too.  Genuinely wishing others well
1.      creates feelings of well-being in yourself
2.      frees you from the bondage of competition
3.      gives you the opportunity to practice kindness and generosity towards others and yourself. 
4.      helps you accept yourself
5.      spares you from feeling depressed and sad
6.      creates a new beneficial habit in your life
7.      helps you see life clearly.

Ending this habit of envying is definitely worth the effort it will take.   If you can't immediately begin celebrating others' triumphs, then start with yourself and your victories. All the best.   

May you rejoice in yours and others good fortune.  

Saturday, April 29, 2017

How to Be Happy

As long as a society protects… the vulnerable among them,
[it] can be expected to prosper and not decline. 
                                                                  The Buddha, Mahaparinirvana Sutta

     My 95 year old friend in South Africa was telling me about the bird lice infestation of her tiny apartment, and the bites and rashes she was suffering all over her face and chest.  She’d found half a bird’s nest behind her wardrobe, and while trying to move the wardrobe, it fell apart because termites had eaten through it.  Too afraid to sleep on her infested bed, she asked the manager of her old-age-home complex if she could sleep in one of the vacant flats while her place was being fumigated; the person said no.  So she ended up sleeping, for a few nights, in a chair out in a cold corridor leading to her flat.
     When I was speaking to her, she was sitting in the armchair in the midst of her devastated home: her clothes lying outside near her front door, and her other possessions strewn around her.  She said to me in an exhausted voice: “I wish I could die”.  This feisty intelligent woman wanted to report the incident to the local newspaper, but was also afraid to make a fuss because she could be kicked out of her home.
     This heartbreaking struggle of the elderly to keep a home, survive, be seen and respected is occurring in California too.  Here seniors have to choose between paying for rent, for medical expenses, or eating.  Landlords force out lower-rent-paying seniors to get in higher paying renters, which unfortunately makes seniors destitute.  What does the ill treatment of our most vulnerable populations: the elderly, the young, and ill within our society say about us?
     Then this week the White House proposed an almost 20% tax cut for corporations.  Budget proposals have already been announced to cut social service programs like “Meals on Wheels”, children’s school lunches, and women’s health services.  Not to mention the devastating budget cut to the Environmental Protection Agency.   This means money will be given back to businesses, and taken away from the neediest populations.
     We are interdependent beings who live on one planet.  The fate of one affects us all.  If you suffer, I suffer.  If the planet is ill, I’m ill. 
     Everything we do and, for that matter, all we buy is so we can be happy.  Contrary to common belief, to become truly happy, we should think of others.  This is counter intuitive but here’s how it works. 
     All beings want to be happy. No one wants to suffer and yet we all do.
When we think only of ourselves, we become unhappy.  This doesn’t mean we should never think of ourselves, or always prioritise others needs over our own.  Our responsibility is also to take care of our survival.  But if we focus only on always fulfilling our own desires and wants over the needs of others, then we inadvertently increase our suffering.
     Desire breeds more desire.  We know how quickly the glow fades after a purchase of a new car, or handbag or after a delicious meal or fancy holiday.  The happiness we gain from possessions and externally is by nature temporary: company shareholders always wanting bigger profits, children wanting more toys and games, parents wanting the latest gadgets and fashions and on it goes. When our desire for more, bigger and better overruns our willingness to share, aid and benefit the less fortunate, then we grow increasingly unhappy.
     Our ego and its wishes become primary when we cherish ourselves.  This mindset makes us greedy, competitive, possessive, and aggressive in our struggle to have the most, and remain the best.  To maintain position, possessions and power, we lie, cheat, steal and so on. This drive increases our misery because we are constantly worried and agitated about losing what we have.  Ironically, we set out trying to achieve whatever it is we think will make us happy, and inadvertently increase our suffering.
     On the other hand, our sense of well-being, peace and joy increases when we help others.  Reflect back on the times when you were most satisfied, pleased and happy.  Most often it is when we did something nice for someone, or lifted up another person.  Notice your feelings the next time you allow someone to go ahead of you in a queue, or you help a coworker on a project, or you cook a meal for your sick neighbor, or you give someone the benefit of the doubt.  These concessions don’t diminish us.  They reveal our innate compassion. 
     As social animals, compassion is in our nature.  When our mind and heart expands, we naturally open up, connect and stretch beyond our comfort zone.  We recognize the pain and feelings of our fellow beings because it is our shared human experience.  At the end of the day, we are all struggling to rise above the pain of living in a world that is unsettling and challenging. 
     If we tap into our deepest self, we’ll reconnect with our natural empathy, kindness and compassion.  After all, our shared experience is both pain and joy.  Our willingness to honour this side of our nature will not only make a difference in someone’s life but will also bring us joy.
     May your compassion bring you lasting peace and happiness.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Managing Anger in Stressful Times

     The other day at Home Depot, two men got into a heated argument over who had broken the queue.  One of the men, a giant over 6ft, stalked over to the shorter man, and looming over him challenged and swore him.  The shorter man, visibly pale, but furious tried to act macho as he weakly parried insult for insult.  I watched horror stricken, hoping they wouldn’t come to blows. 
      When I was in India a couple of months ago, I got into an argument with a few people who I thought were trying to cheat me.  I related this incident to students in my meditation class.  One student asked me if I felt good after angrily telling them off.  I said no because I was embarrassed at having forgotten my training and losing my cool.  And my ranting hadn’t changed the outcome.  The futility of anger is clarified in this quote by the 8th Century Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva:
 “If something can be remedied, why get upset?
 If something can’t be remedied, why get upset?”
      Venting my anger had only succeeded in making my body tremble, heart race, and left me feeling exhausted and impotent.  I had wasted energy but had achieved nothing of benefit.  I could tell my answer hadn’t satisfied her or many other students. 
     I’ve since thought more about her question.  We assume that when we vent our anger we are at least not letting ourselves be taken advantage of and we are fighting back.  These were certainly the thoughts and feelings flashing through me during my Indian altercation.
      We are living in challenging times in a world and country that’s polarized, where distrust and distress are growing every day. With the daily onslaught to our civil and social rights and the loss of human life in racial attacks, there's good reason to be upset, but we should be careful not to vent our anger. 
       Anger isn’t bad, but it is unhealthy.  Sometimes it is justified. The trouble with it though is that even if the anger is valid, becoming enraged is not a skillful response.  Anger can make us feel powerful.  And while it may occasionally get us what we want, as a long term strategy for dealing with frustration it isn’t effective.   Anger is destructive to ourselves and others. 
      The Buddha said, “we will NOT BE punished FOR our anger but BY our anger.” 
      If we use lashing out, avenging, or swearing as a response in stressful times, we strengthen the habit.  As the habit strengthens, our tolerance weakens, and it will take less and less to upset us.  Then the time and space in which to process and decide how to act will drastically decrease.  And so this spiral will tighten. 
      A mindful attitude can reduce the duration and level of our anger.  Begin by:
·       Noticing you are feeling a strong emotion and acknowledge it as anger – “I am feeling angry”
·         Identify the bodily sensations accompanying anger:  rapid heart rate and breathing, flushed face, tight stomach and fists, sweating palms etc.
·         Pay attention to the kind of thoughts you are having (it’s others fault, “always” statements, “I know you think”…etc).  Such thoughts fuel our anger.
·         Accept your anger; this will help you manage it.
·         Try and separate from the emotion and the situation.  Create distance between yourself and the thoughts and the people you are upset with.   
·         Breathe deeply into your belly and count to ten to create distance between your thoughts and emotions 
·         Imagine yourself getting calmer; see the anger dissolving. 
      Reigning in the anger habit is difficult.  It will take time, so be patient with yourself.  Know that you will forget and react in a habitual way.   Practise self-forgiveness.  And remember constant practice will bring about the desired change. 
     May you be free from anger’s destruction.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Replace Worry with these Two Meditations

     A couple of weeks ago my cousin’s leg had to be amputated.  She had just turned 42.  Thinking she was being admitted to have her toe removed, she was told her foot will have to be taken off instead.  After that operation, she learned her leg had to be amputated. With my cousin in South Africa, and me in the U.S., I found worrying about her didn’t help.  All it did, was leave me exhausted from lying awake imagining her fear and worry.
     Worrying contrary to belief doesn’t prevent our worst imaginings from occurring or from some tragedy worsening.  It does, however, increase our anxiety.  We may be accustomed to worrying but may not know its definition:  worrying is being deeply concerned about a problem or a situation where our thoughts are looping around “what’s going to happen?”  These kinds of thoughts increase anxiety.
     Stress causes us to become anxious, and in small doses is considered normal even a healthy response.  But worrying too much causes us to overreact to stress or any uncertainty, and that is detrimental to our overall health.  We lose sleep, appetite, the ability to enjoy what happening in our lives, and the ability to be present.  
    I decided to redirect my energies to more beneficial practices instead.  I chose to do two kinds of meditation for my cousin.  These are compassion and loving kindness meditations.   As our country and the world is in turmoil now,  we can choose to do these meditations for all the people who are suffering fear, worry, sadness, anger, and disappointment in this uncertain time, as well. 
     Both these meditations can be challenging.  They could bring up our own feelings of fear, anger and resistance.  It is important to do ONLY what you are able to do.  Go slowly.  If you encounter a mental or emotional block to doing these practices for someone else, then make yourself the object of the meditation.  Extend kindness and compassion towards yourself and consider all the people who may also feel as you do.   Be gentle and mindful as you undertake these practices.

Loving Kindness Meditation:  (Mentally repeating good wishes for someone). 
·         Sit in in meditation to calm your mind for a few minutes.
·         Bring to mind someone or something you care for deeply.  Feel a warmth or tenderness arise in your being. 
·         Then imagine the person or situation you’d like to extend loving kindness to.
·         Strengthen the feeling of love, warmth, tenderness by repeating 2 or 3 phrases.  For e.g. “May _______ be free from pain”, “May ______ enjoy peace and support”, “May ______feel strong and healthy”.  
·         We can also extend such heartfelt wishes to our fellow countrymen (and women) who are struggling with anxiety and fear.   “May our country be at peace”, “May all people be free from fear and worry”, “May we practice tolerance and kindness for each other”
·         Do this for about 5-10 minutes at the end of a sitting meditation practice. 

Tonglen: (Taking and Sending Meditation)
    This compassion meditation strongly awakens our ability to feel and take on the suffering and pain of others.  It challenges our tendency to reactively avoid the unpleasant and only grasp the pleasant.  The practice is to breathe in the suffering of another person, and send out relief and benefit to the person on an exhalation. 
    Do this meditation for the ill, a person in pain, and someone who is dying or dead. You can do it for yourself when you are in pain.  Tonglen can be done in sitting practice or on the spot anywhere anytime. 
·         Sit in meditation for a few minutes to calm and clear the mind.
·          Then visualize the person or situation.  Imagine that person’s fear and pain as heavy, dark and hot. 
·         Breathe in that heavy dark heat – and breathe out light, peaceful, airy coolness.  Feel the texture of your inhalation and exhalation.
·         Visualise the fear, sadness, anger coming in through your pores and emanate beneficial positive energy through your pores and nostrils. 
·         After your inhalation and exhalation are in rhythm with your visualization, expand your wish to relieve the suffering of all people who may share this pain. 
·         Take in the pain of all the people and send all of them relief.
·         Do this for about 7-10minutes. 
·         Sit in calm abiding meditation for a few minutes to clear your heart mind.
   Practise these techniques anytime you feel especially rigid in your thoughts, feelings or when worry is beginning to set in.  Doing these practices empowers us to be a comfort and strength to the people and situations that need us. 
May we be calm and centered to help those in need.