Building community in a changing world

Monthly Archives: April 2020

April 29, 2020

Your Opinion of Me is None of My Business

I love the teachings of Dr. Kweethai Neill, a hypnotherapist who integrates energy medicine into her practice. In a recent talk – at the 9:35 mark – she discusses how changing how you feel can change your life. How you feel, not how you think. She notes how the most common fear is that we’re not good enough. Not lovable. So that if you change your mindset so that are comfortable with yourself – “I am what I am” – that fear can dissipate. “You may not like me, that’s okay. I like me.”

It’s the principle of whether you like something – or don’t like something – your feelings about that something doesn’t change that thing. Apply that principle to yourself. The minute you withdraw your attachment to whether someone likes you, it loses its power over you.

The best part of my last job is that I worked from home for over 17 years. I spent much more time with my kids while they grew up than I otherwise would have. I spared myself the hassle of a commute. But I also was freed from office gossip. This “Time” article claims that some gossip can be good – and that may be true – but I’ve found it mostly to be damaging because of its negative nature. It’s hard to be a positive person when you get in the habit of listening to – and speaking of – cynical & jaundiced commentary. As someone who has blogged for 18 years, I’ve been forced to detach myself from the opinions of others because I put myself “out there” every time I blog. I’m occasionally surprised about how I can blog something that I believe is completely innocuous – yet someone reads it differently than I intended. I take a deep breath and remember it’s not me – I’m pretty careful about what I write – it’s their world view and that’s okay.

Of course, I’m still human and my feelings get hurt every day, just like anyone else. I just try to take a step back when that happens and inquire whether it’s worth me reacting – or “overreacting” – to what transpired. The answer often is “no.” And for good reason. Your opinion of me is none of my business.

April 27, 2020

Being With Fear

You’ll be hearing a lot about Jonathan Foust in this blog. I’m currently enrolled in his “Year of Living Mindfully” program – and he’s been my principal mindfulness guide for over five years. His dharma talks are remarkable, he’s a great storyteller and he mixes in plenty of humor with his practical teachings.

Recently, Jonathan gave this 45-minute talk about “Understanding Fear.” A timely topic for us all. Here are some of the points he made:

– What is fear? It’s part of life. A constant companion. Your fear inventory has three fundamental roots: survival, losing control and losing attention & love.

– How do you befriend fear? Sometimes it’s in front of you. Sometimes it’s below the line and you’re not fully aware of it.

– At the 12-minute mark, there’s a brief exercise to help you figure out your current state (ie. what’s between me & feeling free?) This exercise is useful because by naming your circumstances, there may be a shift. It may fade or become more activated. By naming it, you begin to sever your attachment to it and take its power away. How to be with it. Slowing things down so that perhaps you can respond to it and create that shift.

– Reacting when in a state of fear often produces results that aren’t desirable. No problem is solved in the state that it was created. See it for what it is. Be compassionate with yourself and ask “can I deal with this right now?” You may first need to calm, slowing down your breath often can produce that effect.

– At the 26-minute mark, there’s a 5-minute exercise to help you further explore your fear, including a somatic inquiry where you do a body scan.

– Fear of death is probably the greatest fear. When you are grounded in whole-hearted cooperation with reality, you free yourself from fear. Acknowledge that our body at some point will not be here – recognizing that everything is impermanent is a principal part of a spiritual practice.

April 24, 2020

Meditation Might Not Be What You Think

Since it’s early on in this blog, I thought I would devote one entry to the basics of meditation because there is so much misinformation about what it is – and isn’t. As noted in this article, a lot of people are trying meditation for the first time during this crisis to help relieve anxiety.

I first tried to meditate nearly 30 years. I had heard that if I meditated daily for five years or so, that I would eventually “lock in” and have a clear mind. Poppycock! I meditated for about a month and gave up. Frustrated that my “monkey mind” kept reappearing as I sat still in the morning. Resigned to never being that guru huddled in the cave in the hills. That bad information cost me two decades of missing out on the best part of my day.

Luckily, many now know that you can meditate all day, every day, and that monkey mind will never leave you. It’s a part of who you are. In fact, monkey mind is a valuable part of who you are because it’s part of what keeps you safe. Walking around like a cave man saying to yourself “don’t die, don’t die” – or in our case, driving around thinking that.

So yes, you’ll continue to tell stories to yourself even when you’re meditating. Here’s what meditation is all about, recognizing that you’re telling yourself a story – and deciding to push that aside for a moment and spend that moment noticing your breath, noticing the sounds & silence in the room, noticing something other than the story. That story inevitably will come back around – or perhaps a new story will find its way to the surface – and you accept that and begin the process all over again. Coming back to your “anchor,” which for me is my breath.

That’s it. That is meditation.

So if that’s all there is, why meditate? It has an amazing calming effect. Physiologically, your body enters into a fantastic state of relaxation. Mentally, you can lower your line – so that you’re more aware of what’s going on in your head. We can spend our days acting out stories in our heads without realizing that we’re doing that. Simply recognizing what’s happening sets you on a path to being more self-aware. More self-compassionate. There are a myriad of “real world” benefits from meditation. More on all this in future blogs.

Two more things that often are misunderstood:

1. Time commitment can be minuscule – I spend 10 minutes meditating every morning right when I plop out of bed. Only 10 minutes. I do it early in the morning because otherwise the day slips away from me. Of course, it takes discipline to get into a routine even with this small of a commitment. To limit yourself, you can set a timer or listen to a guided meditation that lasts the length you desire. There’s a million guided meditations out there – check Internet, YouTube, Spotify, you name it. Just search with the term “guided meditations.”

2. Just sit comfortably how you want – You don’t need to sit on the floor with your legs crossed. It’s okay to have your back touching the back of a chair. In fact, you should if that makes you more comfortable. The key is to have good posture when you sit.

April 22, 2020

“That Hatred Never Ceases by Hatred, But By Love Alone is Healed.”

Today is Earth Day! A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to hear a pre-Earth Day dharma talk by Heidi Schuttenberg, one of the mentors in Jonathan Foust’s “Year of Living Mindfully” program – something I’ve been enrolled in since October. Heidi was kind enough to allow me to excerpt the ending from that wonderful talk:

If you haven’t been able to block it out, you know that humanity isn’t doing so well in our stewardship of the planet. We’re facing unprecedented challenges in terms of the rate of species extinction, changes in our climate, and pollution – particularly in our oceans.

And it’s hard to hear and engage about this loss without feeling sad, angry, disappointed, or scared. These are feelings that need to be felt. And in my work in nature conservation, my mindfulness practice is the main way I work to honor and process these feelings.

What I’ve found for myself, though, is that I don’t do my best work from anger or grief. I do my best work conserving marine biodiversity when I’m really connected to how much I love the ocean, the amazing animals and plants that live in it, and the people who live their lives working and connected to it.

The Buddha said (allegedly), “That hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.” Our practice, the practices we learn in our “Year of Living Mindfully” program, empower us to respond to the current, serious situation from a place of fearless compassion.

So this Wednesday, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I invite you to spend some time centering yourself, to open your heart to your own personal connection with nature, and to consider: “What might wise action look like for you?”

– Maybe it’s to celebrate and reconnect with nature.
– Maybe to make a shift in your personal habits: to shift your energy provider to one who uses more solar or wind generation, to bring greater attention to your recycling, or to focus more on whether your grocery and clothes purchases are supporting practices that are helpful to the planet and safe for the people producing them.
– Or maybe it’s to take an influencing action with those in your social circle, with an elected representative, or by donating to an environmental NGO.

As you reflect and as we transition to our sharing, I want to offer you one of my favorite sayings, “You are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in a drop.” Namaste.

I’m ready to take up Heidi’s invitation to explore my own personal connection with nature. If it rains today, I will dance in that rain. If not, I will dance outside anyway. I will take more than a few minutes to really pay attention to what is happening outside my door. To listen, to smell, to observe. And since I’m currently in a state of “employment pause,” I’m ready to step up my efforts to try to keep this planet as pollution-free as it’s gotten the past few weeks…

April 20, 2020

Breathe Deep Through the Abdomen

As someone who recently spent a week stuck in bed with shortness of breath, I now fully appreciate the simple act of breathing. That’s why I love this 5-minute guided belly-breathing relaxation from “Mindful” so much. It really accentuates my breathing – and immediately produces a nice calming effect. It’s an example of “diaphragmatic breathing,” a technique explained in this article.

I was turned onto this relaxation video by Lynn Teo, who has a Sunday evening class from 7:30-8:45 pm eastern that my wife & I have been thoroughly enjoying the past month. The Zoom class is a mix of guided meditation, light yoga, Qigong and energy healing. You don’t know how to do any of these things in advance – it’s easy to follow. Falling asleep on Sundays is no problem after this class. Try it out!

April 16, 2020

Being Vulnerable By Trying Something New

As I launch this blog, I’ve got a big case of the “FFTs,” which is a term coined by Brene Brown in her first podcast. It means “Frigging First Time.” Brene actually uses a swear word but I won’t go down that path my first week.

Being new at something is tough, opening ourselves up and being vulnerable. Brene explains by naming something, you can diminish its power over you. You normalize it. You can put it in perspective – this is not permanent. You can reality-check your expectations – this will feel lousy for a while as I won’t be good right away.

I am not an expert on self-help. I am not an expert on mindfulness. But as my own self-discovery journey in these areas continue, I figured I would share what I’m learning as I go. Simple as that.

It’s daunting because I know nothing (as Sgt. Shultz so eloquently exclaims in the old TV show “Hogan Heroes”) – and I worry that people will think I’m passing myself off as an expert. Not true. I’m a novice – and will likely remain one even if I blog about these topics for 20 years. Disclaimer complete…

April 15, 2020

Stay Connected, My Friends

I found this piece by Washington Post’s Ron Charles to be interesting. It’s a cute take on the notion that Henry David Thoreau’s two years of solitude at Walden Pond was the most famous act of “social distancing.”

But what really struck me was the end of Ron’s piece – here it is:

The coronavirus quarantine draws me back almost 30 years to when our first daughter was born with cerebral palsy after a terrifying labor. We spent 10 timeless days in the neonatal ICU before the doctors wished us luck and sent us home. My wife and I were in our 20s, struggling to make sense of what had happened to us, fearing what lay ahead for our child. We lived in a tiny house in a remote village along the Mississippi River. We cycled through fits of optimism and dread.

I had been raised at a time when people still whispered words like “divorce” and “cancer.” The only children with disabilities I had seen were on Jerry Lewis’s maudlin TV fundraisers. I had no language to describe what had befallen us. Unsure how to behave, my wife and I hunkered down in that little house and chose to see almost no one, convinced isolation was easier than enduring anyone’s fake cooing over our baby. The loneliness was so intense I thought it would kill me. When we saw other people, we were all smiles and abstract optimism. We lived in the Milky Way.

Years later, in a moment of extraordinary candor, a friend told us, “I sensed something was wrong, so I didn’t call.”

We didn’t blame him; we knew exactly what he meant. Others’ solitude can seem so sacrosanct, so proud and neatly sealed. Who’d want to disturb that? But now whenever my wife and I find ourselves reluctant to risk intruding on the privacy of someone in distress, we remind each other of that cruel hesitancy.

“I sensed something was wrong, so I didn’t call.” Wow. But I can relate. (Note that I say this with the clear intention of not comparing myself to Ron’s terrifying experience after his daughter’s birth; a blog about the dangers of comparative suffering coming soon).

I was one of the first people I know to have gotten something akin to the virus. I say “akin” because I never got tested – but starting in the second week of March, I had ten days of fatigue that turned into a week of fever, migraines, body aches and that very scary symptom, shortness of breath. Could barely get out of bed that week. After that, it was a gradual recovery. I’m fully recovered now except perhaps some slight lung scarring.

It was interesting to see how different people reacted differently to my illness. Of course, my family was there for me. Many friends showed deep concern. But I still haven’t seen a text from a handful of close friends even though I know they’ve heard about my situation. Perhaps they’re afraid to mention it – or they don’t have the capacity for that type of language. I feel for them.

My other challenge was overcoming the misinformation that people were receiving at the time, particularly around testing. A month ago, many hadn’t heard yet that being tested was a challenging feat. And since I hadn’t been tested, some spent their energies about pushing me in that direction rather than offering emotional support. Besides the fact that tests weren’t available – my wife tried – I wasn’t feeling well enough to go through the rigmarole involved. Not to mention there isn’t anything the doctors can do if you test positive, unless you’re so sick that you need to be hospitalized.

Now that I’m healthy, I’m bubbling with a “happy to be alive” mindset. I’ve been redoubling my efforts to connect with people. Hosting Zoom calls with groups of old friends. A huge family reunion. Yes, I’m doing that to ensure the people in my life feel connected. But I’m also doing that for myself. I need the connection too. That’s one of the reasons why I launched this site…

April 14, 2020

What’s the Purpose of This Blog?

For now, this is a mindfulness & wellness site. We are all dealing with an unimaginable mess. As I recently heard Brene Brown say in her new podcast, we have collectively hit weary. The loss of normal swallowing us whole. This crisis won’t be a sprint. It will be a marathon. And without shifting our mindsets, the fear of collapsing could cause our collapsing.

So we need to create a new normal at the same time that we grieve the loss of normal. That is our challenge. My initial goal with this site is to provide practical tools you can use to help yourself – and by helping yourself, you can then help your loved ones. Help the community.

Many of these tools will be based on what I glean from those that are wiser than me, more trained in the art of self-help. I encourage you to reach out to share your own teachings, your own journey of growth (including what you learn from others). Which I will then share on this site with – or without – attribution, whatever you desire. This site will always lurch forth with an eye towards providing community observations & sharing community contributions…