Contributor: Madelyn D.
The U.S. presidential election is over, and now we find ourselves reflecting on the process our nation has endured this year. It can be tempting to form judgments about people whose political views are different from ours. Whether our candidate won or lost, we may be feeling disillusioned about our fellow Americans after this contentious ordeal.
I was born and raised in a kind of political bubble, surrounded by people who mostly agreed on a set of accepted views. Then I moved away from my hometown, and I found myself in a place that was culturally different from what I’d known. Eventually, I married a man whose family believed– and voted– in ways that were polar opposites to my own choices.
Yet, my in-laws have accepted, loved, and supported me for two decades. They welcomed me into the family with open arms, even though I am so different from them. Religiously, politically, and personally, it would seem we have nothing in common. But if I were to focus only on these differences, I would miss the deeper similarities we share.
My in-laws and I share an important set of core values. When I look deeply into their reasons for voting and believing as they do, I see these values operating. They care about protecting their families and innocent children. They care about the safety and freedom of our country. They want to see economic prosperity for Americans, and they hope to live in a kinder world. They believe in charity and lending help to those around them.
I may not agree that their voting choices will support the values we share. I have my own opinions about what policies would best serve our common goals. Still, I have respect for the people I’ve come to love so well.
Amid all the name-calling and shaming, it can be nearly impossible to have a productive conversation between people with different views. My relatives are not racists or misogynists, and they are deeply offended when people apply those ugly labels. How can they hear anyone’s opinions when they’re being belittled that way? How can any of us keep an open mind, when we’re being judged and attacked?
If I spend my energy judging others, I create suffering for myself. I choose to focus, instead, on the common values most of us share, deep down. We all want to be free, happy, safe, and prosperous. If we remember this truth, we can disagree respectfully and hear each other more clearly, We can use our power and our voices to make things better.
Because I’ve learned from loving people who think so differently, I choose to trust in the basic goodness of my neighbor. I believe that’s the way forward for all of us.
MBSR is concluding. There are only two weeks left and I feel terribly sad that I won’t share this particular space with these particular people on Wednesday mornings. I also feel slightly nervous about continuing practice without such intensive guidance. What will my practice look like on my own? Can I “drop in” to meditation without Dr. Shutt’s assistance?
Prior to participating in the program, my meditation practice was fledgling. I was very attached to a certain way of meditating and I often fell asleep very quickly. MBSR has taught me one of the key principles of non-attachment. My meditation practice doesn’t have to look a certain way. I am just as capable of controlling my thoughts as I am herding cats. External stimuli will always exist.
Instead of being bothered by what is uncontrollable, I have embraced open awareness. I can allow thoughts and sensations to pass through like clouds in the sky. I can embrace sounds and movements as energy, and even incorporate them into my meditation. The sounds of birds chirping, dogs barking, or even a lawn mower can become anchors in my practice.
Mindfulness and meditation have allowed me to slow down. Instead of reacting, I THINK. Is it True, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, or Kind? Developing mindfulness has allowed me to develop compassion for others. I often remind myself that others may be more reactive or stressed. By practicing mindfulness, I can extend patience and compassion to everyone I meet.
MBSR has undoubtedly improved the quality of my life. I no longer feel obligated to make instant decisions, rushing through my life with resentments or regrets. I can choose to make each day intentional. This intentionality is extended to my body, breath, observations, and movements. I can renew myself each day with quiet time for myself, or lift my arms in combination with my breath, feeling life course through me. I reflect on my MBSR experience, and am reminded of a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh in The Art of Power:
“Our society is founded on a very limited definition of power, namely wealth, professional success, fame, physical strength, military might, and political control. My dear friends, I suggest that there is another kind of power, a greater power: the power to be happy right in the present moment, free from addiction, fear, despair, discrimination, anger, and ignorance. This power is the birthright of every human being, whether celebrated or unkown, rich or poor, strong or weak.”
If you are looking for an alternative, MBSR is a great beginning.
If you missed the current MBSR program, no worries! We have more information & orientation sessions scheduled. Free sessions will take place on:
Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 9:00 a.m.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 6:00 p.m.
To register, please click here. Hope to see you then!
MBSR alumni have discussed with great enthusiasm the silent retreat, which takes place during week six. The retreat has taken on a mythical quality. Until one experiences the retreat, it remains an elusive and unknowable experience. There are many layers to this special time. It is such an amazing experience to just spend a day completely devoted to looking inward. No communication and minimal eye contact with others. The idea is to cultivate a space of self-awareness and non-judgment, not comparing or striving to emulate others. By creating an external space of silence, we facilitate the ability to look inward.
With this sacred space created, we start the retreat with a short meditation. We set our intention for the day. Our group transitions to yoga, which helps facilitate the mind-body connection. Thinking about participating in yoga has brought me the most anxiety, yet I am pleasantly surprised by how good each movement feels in connection with my breath. By savasana (corpse pose), I am completely relaxed. It would be fine if we just lay on our mats for the remainder of the day. That’s not on the agenda, though.
We gather into a circle and begin another short meditation, before participating in the walking meditation. The conference center where the retreat is being held has two labyrinths. According to the Duncan Center’s website, the labyrinth “is a path and spiritual tool for growth, discernment, prayer and healing”.
We pace our starts and slowly start the winding way toward the center. Some walk somberly while others gently dance with the path. My own pace is slow. I find myself distracted by my other classmates. A large palmetto bug scurries across the path toward the middle. My instinct is to scream and run, but instead I continue walking toward the middle – symbolically walking toward my fear. I will later share this insight during our closing, attempting to turn the bug’s presence into something significant. (As an aside – most of us started from the wrong direction and did not end up making it to the center correctly. An excellent time to practice non-judgment!)
After the labyrinth, we have the option of either journaling or sitting quietly until lunch. I take that time to write down my reflections in my notebook. I don’t have any discomfort in not speaking with others. It is normal for me to keep to myself. What comes harder for me is giving up the niceties of daily living – offering someone a chair, blessing them when they sneeze, or using please and thank you in interactions.
It is those interactions that are most missed when we break for lunch. It is strange to splinter off from everyone else and eat lunch in silence. Even those sharing the dining room with our group sense our dedication to mindfulness. I choose a table that is tucked away in a corner. As instructed by Dr. Shutt, I really take a moment to observe the shape and color of the food before me. My inclination is to tear into the warm, buttered roll before me. Instead, I start with my salad. In between bites, I set my fork on my plate. I meditate on the softness of the chickpea, the fleshly qualities of my raisin, and the creaminess of blue cheese dressing. I honestly don’t think I could eat like this everyday; however, I vow to myself that I will try to eat at least three mindful meals per week.
After lunch, Dr. Shutt leads us through one of my very favorite meditation practices, metta (compassion) meditation. We start by extending compassionate thoughts to ourselves, expanding to those who we love, our friends, acquaintances, and eventually those we find challenging. I visualize my husband, my dog and cats, family members, the great people I call my coworkers, the kindness of random strangers, and that one cousin who really gets on my nerves. During the practice, I see the color purple surrounding everyone. Superficially, purple is my favorite color. It represents the women’s movement and I identify with it strongly. Purple also is the crown chakra color, and is symbolic of spirituality, reconciliation, and balance. Whatever the significance, my meditation is colored in various shades of violet.
Gathered in our circle, we finish the day by breaking silence and sharing our experiences. I really am sad for the day to end. I can easily see myself participating in a future ten-day retreat. I don’t want to misrepresent the experience as easy. Meditation and silence is extremely challenging and it forces you to sit with your inner turmoil. I have been on both sides, and I can tell you that I would rather sit in silence than react in fear. I am grateful to share this practice with such amazing people.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” – Exodus 20:8
Many balk at the idea of observing a biblical commandment. In fact, a recent Pew study showed that most Americans are becoming less religious, choosing not to affiliate themselves with any one particular faith. While many have developed skepticism towards the Bible and monotheistic religions in general, I can’t help but view the Bible’s essence as spiritual – a spiritual expression of ancient peoples attempting to explain their world.
Viewing the Bible as a spiritual book rather than a doctrine allows us to incorporate its wisdom into our daily lives. One of the teachings that I often reflect upon is the separation between ordinary and holy, work and rest – doing versus being. Exodus 20:8-11 teaches us that we observe the Sabbath, “to keep it holy”, by refraining from work. The definition of what constitutes work has resulted in volumes of biblical commentary. It isn’t so much the work aspect that is of any interest, nor a particular day of observance. Rather, in an increasingly hectic world, how do we define what is holy? How are we creating sacred spaces for ourselves?
Prior to discovering meditation, my own answer to the above question would have included occasionally going to synagogue, lighting Sabbath candles, or journaling. While all of these activities do create a sacred space, I never felt truly rested or separate from the activities of daily life. Going to synagogue or making a Sabbath dinner was always a mad dash from work to the next activity. My journaling always seemed to focus on what wasn’t working, lacking perspective for all of wondrous blessings of my life.
It is only through regular meditation and MBSR that I discovered my own interpretation of Exodus 20:8. If I interpret the text through my Jewish experience, I use the Sabbath to refrain from social media, news, comparisons, and other activities that do not promote mindfulness. Instead, I may begin the day with breathing and meditation. I can choose to read a spiritual satisfying text, create a piece of art, or savor the delicious flavors of a Shabbat meal. I may listen mindfully to my husband, friends, or family.
MBSR has also taught me that this holiness can be carried with me throughout my week. I can intentionally carve out a sacred space for each day. Through meditation and mindfulness practice, I am able to strengthen my own religious practice. I meditate, often reflecting on Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, Adonai, my strength and my Redeemer.” MBSR allows me the space to reflect on what is holy in my own life, and to live with gratitude.
Our MBSR group is varied. Represented are retirees, professionals, a graduate student, and yours truly. Dr. Shutt encourages us to practice non-judgment with ourselves. Unlike other social situations, MBSR doesn’t focus on titles or achievements. In a world that is driven by seeking external approval, we are taught to go inward, truly feeling whatever comes up for ourselves.
At times, MBSR feels like a voyage to Shambhala. I can hear Three Dog Night playing in my mind and I think to myself, “Yes, this is it. I have found the answer.” Meditation sometimes makes me feel as light as a feather. I feel empowered to surrender, relax and go with life. Other moments come with greater difficulty. I go inward and see my character defects, my incessant striving, and disappointment with myself. I get trapped in the narrative of past failures, missed opportunities, and constant comparisons.
Four weeks into the class, I find myself comparing and striving during meditation and discussion. I feel inadequate. My shared thoughts feel so cumbersome in comparison to my classmates’ insights. I’m not in graduate school. I have neither produced children nor achieved any kind of success valued by our society. I have often felt like I am going nowhere in life.
As I began my descent into the darkest corners of my mind, one of my classmates brought me back to the present with a clever anagram. He shared that meditation refocuses you from nowhere to now here. Everyone stares ahead or looks behind; each generation strives for perfection. The thinking and wishing and regretting leads us nowhere. The solution is to settle the mind, connecting to the here and now.
How is success measured? Many have written books and dissertations on the subject. Although I may never measure up to what society has deemed as successful, on most days, I feel fairly confident that my greatest happiness will be obtained by learning how to live with great compassion and connection to the present moment. Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes in The Little Prince:
“Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead, they demand: ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’”
Mindfulness is teaching me how to look beyond the figures. The “essential matters” are the entirety of mindfulness – sounds, colors, feelings, sensations, etc. By anchoring ourselves to the present, we can learn how not to live as grown-ups, but truly grow up.
I am biting back laughter as I walk conscientiously down the stairs. If I were witnessing this spectacle, I would be taking pictures and texting my husband.
OMG. I just saw six people walking around outside. Just like ZOMBIES. Only in Florida.
Dr. Shutt has introduced us to walking meditation. Our practice consists of being mindful with each step. Each step is taken with care, noting the ground beneath our feet. While walking, we softened our gaze and focused on the ground. We start inside, taking slow steps back and forth on our yoga mats. It’s unusual, but who cares? We all signed up for MBSR. That’s all that matters. The yoga mat feels squishy. The pace is painfully slow and I soon realize slow walking is as frustrating as being caught behind a slow driver. A few more paces and we can get to the good stuff – sitting meditation.
Not quite, though. With mindfulness bells in hand, Dr. Shutt tells us that we will walk outside. We shouldn’t stray too far from the building. When we hear the bells, we are instructed to slowly make our way back. She magnanimously offers us the option to stay indoors. None of us take it. With orchestrated movements, we put on our shoes and file down the steps. My giggles begin.
There is something inherently ridiculous about walking at a snail’s pace with five other people. Really, what is this accomplishing? I feel my cheeks turn flush as I turn the sidewalk corner and see neighbors on the other side. I am trying to focus on my steps. I admire one of the many delights of our tropical oasis, a pink hibiscus. Birds are chirping and I use their melodies as my meditation anchor. As I walk further away from my classmates, I begin to enjoy the experience. Just as I am prepared to walk further, I hear the bells in the distance. All of us meander upstairs. I notice my classmate’s muscles flex with each step. The wooden steps creak and bend as we make our ascent.
With levity, we agree that we did resemble zombies. Dr. Shutt is quick to draw the distinction between our zombie apocalypse and the mindfulness activity we have just completed. We are not undead and mindless, searching for delicious, human flesh. Walking meditation allows us to be fully present, focusing on our external surroundings. By pacing ourselves, we can actually begin to notice. It is another way to cultivate mindfulness and break free from whatever has the ability to make us zombie-like. Put down the phone. Turn off the music. Slow your roll. Breathe. Feel. See. Hear. Live.
National Yoga Day for Vets
Palm Beach, Florida
Monday, November 9th at 1:00 p.m.
Ralph Iovino, ERYT500, will lead a therapeutic, trauma sensitive yoga class for veterans. Class limit: 10 veterans. Please call 561- 302-5975 to RSVP.
Event will be held at Sacred Treehouse (aka Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches):
From I-95, take exit 56 to Woolbright Rd.
Proceed heading east (4 traffic lights)
Turn right onto US 1 (Federal Highway)
Proceed south approximately five miles.
Turn right at George Bush Blvd.
Cross railroad tracks and make first left onto N.E. 3rd Ave.
Proceed to Sacred Treehouse/Therapeutic Oasis.
Yoga studio is located on second floor.
Parking is located across the street, in overflow parking lot.
Inviting the Uninvited
This week, Dr. Shutt asks us to meditate on Rumi’s “The Guest House”. This poem illustrates the importance of inviting the uninvited. MBSR is teaching us to accept all of our experiences. Read and consider:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexepected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Translation by Coleman Barks
My meditation on Rumi:
Control makes us miserable. We may be grasping for control without any awareness. Other times, control may give us a false sense of calm and comfort. We try so hard to control people, events and ourselves. How well has this worked? For myself, I have felt most out of control when I was trying too hard to predict outcomes, resist moods, or change others.
Mindfulness teaches us to be observers instead of interpreters. By constantly striving to interpret our experiences, we exhaust our greatest resource – the mind. Reacting, catastrophizing, personalizing – all of these thought patterns create a cloudy existence. Every pain could lead to death. Thoughtless, benign slights turn into grave offenses. How many times have we lashed out and overreacted?
Rumi challenges us to invite the uninvited. We are all vulnerable to sadness, pain, grief, and shame. We may choose to ruminate, getting lost in dark pathways of the mind. We cannot control what shows up, but we have an amazing power available to us through mindfulness practice. When we meditate, we allow ourselves enough space to process our experiences without judgment. When we extend an invitation to all of our experiences, we see with clarity our universal experience. When I sit with myself, I am honoring all parts of being. Today, I live with a grateful heart.