meditation

Week 16/You+Earth=BFFs

This upcoming Monday is Earth Day.  It is a day that easily gets lost in the shuffle, but truth be told, we need this day now more than ever before.  There is so much emotional suffering due to our disconnection from other humans, animals, and the earth.   This Earth Day, I invite you to read more about my own journey toward environmental stewardship, with the hope that you will cultivate your own relationship with our one and only Earth.

Being a mindful custodian of this planet began early in life for me, starting with awe and wonder for the creatures I discovered in my own backyard.  I was fascinated by lizards, bugs, and of course, my own furry friends. This awe and wonder was nurtured at Unity School during “Lessons in Living”, where we were taught lessons of being good stewards to our planet.

In high school, my love of nature and animals took on a whole new meaning when I studied environmental science. It was like a voice from within started to guide my path, leading me to spend my summers studying abroad in the sustainable summer learning program.  It was during this experience that I truly saw the miracle of nature and the wonders of our natural ecosystems.  This path led me to my current course of study: horticulture.

Through my various courses of study, I have learned an essential truth: humankind and the environment are interconnected AND our wellbeing is contingent on the health of the environment. This has fueled my passion to protect and learn from nature. This year, I challenge you to dig deeper than you ever have before by doing more, learning more, and making an even bigger impact to preserve our earth and all her creatures.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jane Goodall speak at Florida Atlantic University and was inspired by her book and teachings called The 10 Trusts.  I ask you to consider them now:

1. Respect all life
2. Live as part of the Animal Kingdom
3. Educate our children to respect animals
4. Treat animals as you would like to be treated
5. Be a steward
6. Value the sounds of nature and help preserve them
7. Do not harm life in order to learn about it
8. Have the courage of your convictions
9. Act knowing that your actions make a difference
10. Act knowing that you are not alone.

To help you on your journey, I am sharing some of my favorite resources below.  I also encourage you to attend Sacred Treehouse’s Discover the Wonders Open House event on Saturday, April 27th.  Join like-minded individuals and learn more about the services offered at Treehouse.

Happy Earth Day!

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Shutt is a student at the University of Florida.  She is passionate about all things green and currently participates in many forms of environmental advocacy, including the #Unlitter movement.  When she isn’t hitting the books, she enjoys cooking plant-based cuisine, composting, and surfing.

Week 15/Shining the Light to Find Our Way Home

No matter with whom I am working therapeutically, it’s inevitable that we end up making our way to the subject of suffering – physical, emotional, spiritual – and a route to becoming free from it. The temptation to ignore our thoughts, feelings, physical discomfort or pain is strong, and seems logical. But, if you simply build unpleasant experiences into a narrative or sweep the unpleasantness under the rug, you’ve sent it into the dark where, I believe, not only will it not get better, but it will actually grow. Is there another option that might instead decrease our difficulty? 

How do we “shine a light” on, i.e. see, what arises within us?

How do we have mindful, present awareness and become an objective observer of our own sensations, emotions, and thoughts?

How do we objectively observe the story that might arise when we look (which we might use to justify the attachment to this suffering)?

If feelings and/or stories arise, how do we look at, yet not identify with them?

How can we have compassion, kindness, and tenderness for ourselves in the face of this?

It is my strong belief, and my experience, that being an objective, compassionate witness to what is happening within ourselves not only doesn’t make what we are seeing worse, but actually decreases our reactivity, decreases the physical and emotional distress, and ultimately decreases the power of what arises!

I have a process I have started calling “shining a light.” Nothing out of our awareness (in the dark) will change. Only in the light will we become more aware of what causes our suffering and the truth of our divine nature.

Try this process:

1. Begin to notice when you have an uncomfortable bodily sensation, thought, or emotion that arises.

2. Then, “shine a light” on it – actively observe it with curiosity; try not to push it away.

3. See it, but don’t identify with or get grabbed by it. What does this mean? Look at what you see as if it’s not yours – no judgment, no wishing it different, no diving onto the story associated with it.

4. As one of my students asked, “What do you do with the stinker once you see it?” The habit to respond and dive in to the feelings and the story is strong, so if you feel it growing as you look, relax further, step back and observe more, and very important – have compassion for yourself.

5. It is through repeated looking with compassion that it begins to decrease its potency and reveal some insight.

This process takes time and practice, and perhaps a bit of courage, too! Each time you practice this, you will make your way, step-by-step, toward greater freedom. 

Yours, in service, K.O.

Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT

Kathy Ornish is a practicing and certified yoga therapist (c-IAYT) and a certified yoga teacher (E-RYT-500). She serves as Senior Faculty at Gary Kraftsow’s American Viniyoga Institute where she is Faculty Specialist in the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy. Kathy’s yoga therapy practice involves addressing individual’s structural, physiological, and emotional conditions. Her primary emphasis in all her teaching is the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of the many tools of yoga in hopes that she can help people realize their highest potential.  For more information, please visit her website at www.goodspaceyoga.com

Week 14/I Am Grateful For ________! Life Through the Lenses of Gratitude & Mindfulness

I was on my way to pick up my daughter from school the other day, poking along in busy late afternoon traffic as I headed due west on a local major thoroughfare. I noticed the stop and go traffic, the day-to-day busyness, and the hustle to get from here to there (and back again). I popped on a tune from a playlist I made for my daughter, and while I waited for traffic to edge forward on its own time I took a moment to observe the way the sunlight broke through the low hanging clouds, as though the universe was reminding me that there’s always sunshine even when there is darkness. At that moment I felt deeply grateful for this life — the opportunity to show up present each day for my kids, the blessing of having reliable transportation, the joy of music, this moment of solitude, and the heartfelt knowing that I am connected to something bigger than myself. It still warms my heart to reflect back on the feelings felt that day.

Science has spoken loud and clear about the benefits of gratitude.  Beyond positively impacting life satisfaction and our overall sense of wellbeing, studies have shown that practicing gratitude can improve our relationships, physical health, and job performance.  Gratitude leads to feeling more able and effective, an increased ability to weather stress, and heightened optimism about the future.  Practicing gratitude builds resilience and connection with others and ourselves.

Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. It is often reported that with a regular and consistent mindfulness practice comes an increased feeling of appreciation and gratefulness for the little things in life.  A gratitude practice, simply, is the practice of (1) paying attention, (2) reflecting upon what we are thankful for, and (3) expressing gratitude when the opportunity arises.  In addition to incorporating mindful awareness into your daily life, here are a few more ideas about how you might increase your felt sense of gratitude.

1. Gratitude Tracking

Setting aside a time each day to reflect on the blessings in your life not only brings joy and appreciation to that moment, but also retrains your brain to see the world through the lens of gratitude automatically. Tracking your gratitude may involve traditional journaling, or might be more creative or interactive, like having a gratitude jar or posting about gratitude on social media.  Consider adding a brief moment to reflect on all you are grateful for into your daily routine for one week and see what you notice!

2. Replacing “I am sorry” with “thank you”

We often find ourselves apologizing when we are late, forgetful, or under the weather.  Welcome to the human condition! What if each time we feel the urge to apologize, we instead shift to expressing our gratitude for the patience or understanding of a friend? Shifting from judgment to appreciation can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves AND our ability to connect on a deeper, more intimate level with others.

3. Write a Gratitude Letter

Not only does gratitude impact our own emotional wellbeing in a positive way, but it can also bring joy and connection with others when expressed.  Whether it be a small sticky note left on the desk of a colleague, a card in your child’s or partner’s lunchbox, or an email to a friend or family member who lives far away, sharing our gratitude is a gift for both ourselves and others. Making it a habit of saying thank you in ways both big and small is a powerful practice of love.

I don’t always connect with gratitude automatically, as I did on the day described in the above passage. Many days I am find myself swept up in “autopilot” mode, trying to navigate the hectic (and at times difficult and challenging) life I live. It is a practice, and one I am grateful to incorporate into my life.

Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches  Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well.  At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.

Week 13/A Teaching on Forgiveness

All relationships are fraught with difficulties.  They require us to develop the ability to forgive, reopening our hearts again so that we can love and trust. In teaching mindfulness meditation and working with clients in psychotherapy, I have observed that this is the most difficult part of the path to travel. Our natural reaction is to avoid pain. Sometimes we cross the path too quickly and end up bypassing the process of true forgiveness.  We find ourselves taking a convenient detour – only later to realize that the destination we find ourselves in is a mountain of unresolved pain. At other times, forgiveness is offered and it may feel complete until feelings of hurt, anger, or resentment arise and catch us by surprise.
 
I believe that Anne Lamott’s quote is talking about radical forgiveness. Radical forgiveness occurs when an individual has released themselves from the pain and suffering of holding onto the wish for things to be different. This complete and total letting go is not only difficult, it can seem utterly impossible in extreme life situations of abuse, death, neglect, dishonesty, theft, or infidelity. Forgiveness has the ability to unfold naturally as a person works through the traumatic pain or injury. I have seen many clients work through trauma, but stop short before reaching acceptance and forgiveness. This is a form of protection, like a shield one keeps up to prevent future harm.  These individuals deserve compassionate understanding from others, as well as the ability to practice self-compassion.
 
Many recovery groups enlist individuals to make a list of resentments.  The purpose behind this exercise is to facilitate the first step in recognizing and bringing the hurt to the surface. The path of forgiveness is not possible without feeling the original pain of hurt, betrayal, abuse, loss or disappointment. It requires the powerful presence of love and compassion toward oneself, as well as the guidance and support of others who have been through the process. This process reveals to the seeker that very little that is done to us is personal, but rather the result of complex causes and circumstances. This combination of courage to feel, combined with care, love, and mindful awareness allows the process of forgiveness to set our hearts free.
 
If someone has hurt you or a loved one, do not mistake this passage as a prescription to go through the steps to forgive. There is a readiness that must precede this process.  It is also recommended to have a guide to help you on this path. I invite you to simply open to the possibility or intention of one day freeing your heart through letting go. Mindfulness and self-compassion are excellent stepping stones to strengthen your capacity to feel the hurt, preparing your heart to open again.
 
With an open heart,
 

Patty

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 12/Are You Connected? Developing Awareness of the Body Through Mindfulness

Mindful awareness of the body can be both a formal and informal practice. The formal practice includes attending to the sensations of the body during meditation with curiosity, openness, and nonjudgment. This strengthens our awareness of the mind-body connection, improving the intrinsic ability to tune into our body’s wisdom. 

To emphasize the importance of this connection, I recall going to the doctor many years ago and being a poor self-reporter of what was occurring with my body. I relied on the doctor to diagnose my disease instead of paying attention to my symptoms. If I had been working on mindful awareness of the body, I could have seen early signs and symptoms of a condition that was unmanaged – existing for many years before this office visit. I was suffering unnecessarily from chronic fatigue, irritability, and depressed mood.  This experience showed me the importance of tuning into the body with mindfulness.

We all have the ability to develop this mind-body connection.  In daily life, we can turn our attention to the body when we are eating, walking, or participating in other routine activities.  The ability to pay attention and offer subtle adjustments can have a powerful impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing.  At any moment, we are able offer subtle adjustments to our posture, activity level, thoughts, or eating patterns.

To enhance this awareness, I recommend a daily formal practice of meditation.  By slowing down, we have a greater ability to maintain connection throughout the day with our bodies.  If you are new to this practice, a great place to start is with the Breath Meditation or Body Scan Meditation (see below).

If you have been out of touch with your body, you may experience some initial discomfort.  Practice gentle awareness and nonjudgment when new sensations arise. Stay the course! As the Buddha taught, mindfulness of the body leads to greater insights and wisdom.

 Breath Meditation
 The link below is a five minute breath meditation:


Body Scan Practice
Start simple with a 5-10 minute body scan.  You may complete this body scan lying down or sitting comfortably in a chair.

Begin by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Bring attention to the feet and noticing the sensations of warmth, coolness, pressure, tingling or maybe even numbness, without judging or wishing the feet to feel different. Just notice.

Once you have noticed the feet, bring your attention to other parts of the body. Notice your legs, hips, belly, chest, shoulders, arms, and hands.  Bring attention to face, neck, and head. As with before, notice the sensations of each body part.

End the body scan by sensing the body as a whole. Take a deep breath and when ready, open your eyes.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 10/Deep Listening

The most loving and compassionate thing you can do for others is to listen with presence. 

Sounds easy, right?

Often the simple things are the most difficult and I am reminded daily of the inner wisdom, strength, and creativity that lives within each person as I sit with my psychotherapy clients and meditation students.  Listening creates a sense of safety and caring that can allow the inner wisdom to surface. Compassionate listening is extremely difficult because when another person is suffering there is a stirring of empathic resonance that draws up the urge to fix or alleviate the problem.

Many years ago, I was blessed to listen to Tara Brach in a NYC auditorium of 2000 people.  She shared the wisdom I needed at that time in my life of raising small children. I learned that the most important parenting skill (and relationship skill) needed was PRESENCE, a way of being completely with another person in the moment, without judgment and without fixing.  It involves taking in the experience of another to deeply understand and truly “SEE” them. This proves to be an ultimate challenge in balancing all the demands of daily life with small children, work, household responsibilities, personal issues, and other family commitments.

It is important that we do not take this practice to the extreme.  There isn’t the demand to listen with PRESENCE all the time, but rather sometimes…sometimes is good enough to have another person feel what they most need to feel. When I say feel, I really mean feel because it is not an intellectual thing where you can accurately regurgitate what the other person said to demonstrate you are listening.  It is a felt sense where the other person can see and sense that you are totally with them by your nonverbal body language. This is a skill we can continually work to develop and deepen, helping our relationships to blossom over time.

A few tips to cultivate the practice of presence:

Slow down.

Take a few deep breaths before you engage in conversation to interrupt your activity in the mind.

Assess the situation: Read body language to determine if there is urgency, and if so, direct all attention to the other person. If the need is not urgent or you are unable to give full attention, ask for time or explain that you want to give full attention but cannot right do so immediately. The key here is to honor your commitment to get back and listen, as this builds trust. This practice will also help foster a child’s ability to wait.

Use this practice during your daily routines.  Commit to turning off the electronics in the evening and be present with your loved one.

You can practice this with yourself, too…it is called Vipassana, or mindfulness meditation and as you cultivate inner listening, it will promote greater PRESENCE.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 9/A Reflection on Energy and Resources

Although birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays, and new years are wonderful times to consider where one’s energy and resources have been spent, any moment where the consciousness has time to reflect is also worthy of our consideration.  For in reality, we all have a limited amount of life force to give to our lives and to those around us.  But this reflection is not just about quantity, it also speaks to the quality of our interactions, the intention behind our actions, and the focus of our mind.  

Most of us have demanding lives, yet through simply noticing whatenergy we bring to those demands, we have the ability to create a shift in ourselves and whomever we’re interacting with. Where we spend or apply our resources helps us to make a statement. Our resources are a form of support – consider the power of this reflection. Even the simplest choice of where and how to spend our money, time, charitable giving, and/or attention creates a ripple effect. Every day can be a mindfulness practice on the use of energy and resource- how powerful.

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 8/Discover Your Drishti

I am by no means a yoga enthusiast, but I was admittedly intrigued when I was introduced to the Sanskrit word drishti, which translates to “sight”.  If you attend yoga regularly, you may already be aware of this yogic practice.  Drishti is a gazing practice used to help assist with balancing poses, such as Tree Pose.  Drishti is also used to promote a meditative state.  By choosing our focus, we are better able to go within.
 
This sentence bears repeating: By choosing our focus, we are better able to go within.
 
Humans are on sensory overload.  We have a 24 hours news cycle and multiple avenues of technology that compete for our constant attention.  Add to the mix our family, friends, co-workers – even our pets! Being constantly accessible to the mini-computers we carry around all day means that our focus is divided.  If we don’t make the conscious decision to choose our focus, we live in imbalance.  We lose touch with our most vital energy: our heart space.
 
Drishti is not limited to yoga; it is a mindfulness practice that we use to cultivate our inner wisdom.  How can we apply drishti to our own lives?

  • Take a few moments each day to soften your gaze.  Purposefully pick something within your sight and focus on the object.  It could be a flower or candle flame.  Let your gaze settle on that object.
  • Create technology free space.  Make a commitment to turn your gaze away from social media and other distractions.  Allow yourself to be on “airplane mode”.  Then use this time to open your heart space through meditation, journaling, or a daily reading.
  • Find your tribe.  In this application, we are not using drishti in the literal sense.  Instead, we are connecting with others.  This may mean that you choose to spend time with a dear friend that you haven’t seen in awhile, or participate in a group activity that you have neglected.

As it is written in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  To truly see what is essential, we must set an intention to discover our drishti. 

Remove distractions.  Find your focus.  Open your heart space.  

Sara Goldstein works for Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches. She edits and designs “52 Weeks of Mindfulness” for Sacred Treehouse. Sara is a writer, reader, and lover of poodles. Although she practices yoga infrequently, she enjoys meditation and mindfulness practice.

Week Four/The Power of Passage Meditation in Cultivating Self-Awareness

All of us want peace of mind, but many of us search outside of ourselves.  We hope that external circumstances, conditions or even other people will bring us that desired feeling of peace. Instead, I invite you to consider the following passage:

This passage gently points us inwards. I find it reassuring that we do not need to rely on another person’s behavior or wait for ideal conditions to attain peace of mind.  By directing our attention inwards and practicing mindfulness, we develop self- awareness.  This self-awareness helps us discern important truths.  When we look inwards, we are able to see more clearly the inner workings of our mind.  Through this process of self-discovery, we may also notice how we contribute to our own pain and suffering.
 
One way to facilitate this inner journey is by participating in passage meditation.  This specific form of meditation can help quiet the mind and build self-awareness.  The practice is straightforward:
 
(1) Pick an inspirational passage and commit it to memory.  Make sure your passage is positive and uplifting.
 
(2) Find a comfortable position to practice the meditation.  You may sit on a cushion, chair or the floor.
 
(3) Recite the passage – focusing on each word.  When the mind wanders (and it will!) gently bring your focus back to the passage.
 
(4) Repeat the passage for the entirety of the meditation.  Try practicing for 10 minutes each day.


Passage meditation has helped me to pause and notice the habit of finding fault with others. Without judgment, I bring a shared awareness of humanity. There is no you and I, there is just we… and we are all the same.
 
This week, try incorporating passage meditation into your daily life. Take notice of what annoys you or times where you are finding fault with others. Pause and note what it is you are believing or saying in your mind. How do your thoughts influence your state of mind? Be honest and gentle – this human experience is fraught with challenges.

May you look at yourself through eyes of love and compassion.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches.  Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week Three/Inviting Body Awareness Into Your Life

Have you made a resolution yet about your body? 

Most people do at the start of a new year.  We have a picture of what we think our bodies should or should not look like.  We then make a decision to push our bodies in that direction.  This course of action is held for a short time and eventually fades away.  We beat ourselves up and feel defeated for not “meeting our goal.” 
 
What if this year you actually turned towards your body? 
 
Imagine making a decision to treat your body with more respect, care and appreciation. What if you gave up the belief that it works to make negative comments about your body?  Can you see that moving towards the body helps you create a relationship with the body? Our bodies are not the enemy. Each body is unique.  The shape, size and condition are all reflections of a variety of factors: genetics, age, circumstances and care.  No relationship works if one half constantly criticizes the other.  This year, I invite you to try a different resolution:

 I want a positive relationship with my body.
Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.