Equanimity: Staying Centered Even In Chaos

Equanimity is one of the four sublime, or divine states we cultivate through mindfulness practice, including Lovingkindness, Compassion, and Sympathetic Joy. We cannot will our self to be equanimous, it takes practice, practice, practice in steadying the mind under all conditions. The practice of non-attachment, accepting what is and letting go, all give rise to a steadiness of mind even when exposed to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may lead to others losing balance of mind.We cannot will ourself into this state, it unfolds and arises out of reaching deep insights and an ability to respond from wisdom and compassion. 

 
As a solid rock cannot be moved by the wind, 
the wise are not shaken by praise or blame.

When they listen to the words of the dharma,
their minds become calm and clear like the waters of a still lake.
 
                           -Dhammapada
                            (translated by Eknath Easwaran)
 
 

       Viewing 2020 as a bootcamp for equanimity has helped me turn toward my practice and the teachings as a refugee. Fortunately the ability to access these resources rather than turning to other maladaptive behaviors that serve to numb, avoid, or deny the reality of the pain and chaos of this year has made all the difference in my current state of mind. having the steady practice to focus attention consistently on the present moment, even while recovering from COVID 19 served as a way to maintain clarity and enabled me to see both good and bad, pain and pleasure, loss and gain with greater discernment and to respond to the challenges with wise attention.  Despite many obstacles and detours along the way I managed most days to proceed on the path of mindfulness and when I faltered I got back up and returned to my practices and supports. 

       How did I manage this? I must say it was very simple, yet not easy and most certainly required great supports. I reflected this weekend on what supported me to reach the eight month mark of this pandemic, and all the trials, tribulations, and tragedies of 2020 and still feel strong, grounded, full of love, and hope.I would like to share a few and hopefully illuminate a path for those still struggling with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness to seek refuge. Here is what has helped me….

  1. Maintaining a daily practice of mindfulness meditation, that included training attention and concentration while also opening and inviting the full experience of moment to moment awareness. 
  2. Making life a practice in presence. Seeing, feeling, and awakening to the full spectrum of events and  emotions, without being caught up in one or the other. 
  3. Letting go and accepting the present moment reality with all the changes and challenges and living skillfully with greater compassion, lovingkindness, and gratitude for all of it. 
  4. Recognizing the ways “I” lose balance and presence and what triggers the reactivity that leads to dwelling in the past or the future “what if’s” or wishes that cloud me from the wisdom of the present. 
  5. Meeting challenges and failures with greater self compassion, forgiveness, and humility. 
  6. Most importantly all the love and kindness from the Sacred Treehouse Sangha, my MMTCP mentor and peers, the incredible Oasis consultation team/family, and my friends and family who have all served as beacons of light, love, and inspiration at a time where many are painting a picture of the world as ugly, violent, and therefore hopeless. I can still see light!!!

With deepest gratitude to all….

 May all beings know peace, love,

and never give up hope!

Tashi Deley,

Patty and all the Sacred Treehouse Faculty

       
     P.S. Last chance to sign up for the virtual retreat day this Saturday as a special treat on Halloween to return to center and deepen your practice in a supportive community. SIGN UP HERE!

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.

Create Happiness Right Here, Right Now

If I told you there’s a three-week or three-year plan to achieving lifelong happiness, peace, and fulfillment is your mind tempted to hear this plan and read on? If so, I bet the 3 week one is your preferred option.

The mind loves to operate in terms of the “future” and on a “time-frame”. It is always looking for ways to achieve something better than the current state. The mind can churn with thoughts of  “I am not good enough yet, there is more I should be doing” or “there are more things I need in order to be happy”. 

I know my mind tells me this a lot and there are times I get caught in the trap and the feelings of frustration or discontent take over…. I think I “should” be doing more when in reality I need to just focus on what is going to support me in this moment of my life. At times I often need to do LESS!  The mind lenas into the future, thinking everything will get better than it is right now. The Someday Isle….that Happiness will be achieved because… “I will be retired” “I will be fit” “I will have enough money”. This belief is just an illusion.

I struggle with these same thoughts about the future and when I catch myself I try to reframe to “it will be different”. There is no reason why we can not be at peace and feel fulfilled every day, every moment, starting now, even if it is just a brief moment out of Twenty four hours.

The answer to freeing oneself from thousands of years of human experience and conditioning does not require you to work hard to spend lots of time and energy  bettering yourself. The simple truth is that it requires us to be present. In this moment you can move away from your thoughts of past and future and welcome a sense of presence. You are here to be Here, not There, so I challenge you to practice” Being Here Now”.

Pause.

Stop reading.

Close your eyes.

Take five deep breaths…. sighing all the air out on the exhale.

Take this moment for yourself.

To just be present.

Be Here Now. 

Mindfulness is not the brain’s default mode, yet with practice, we can exercise our Mindfulness Muscles, and change mindfulness from a state to a trait. Over time it becomes a more natural way we move about in the world rather than a state we enter once or twice a week. Perhaps as you hit the pause button and did the above practice you felt a deeper sense of presence or maybe the opposite, perhaps a tug of war in the mind. Just with anything that is worthwhile, it takes practice, patience, and nonjudgment.

Just as you walk your dog, exercise,, eat and drink water, you can practice mindfulness in your daily life. You don’t do it because you “should”, you practice for the good that it brings to your own life and the ripple effect it has on others. 

Mindfulness has brought me a greater sense of patience, compassion, empathy, faith, clarity, and curiosity. My mindfulness practice has strengthened my ability to catch myself in a moment of reaction before I say or do something that is not aligned with my values or truth.

This week I encourage you to dedicate 5 minutes to just being present with yourself, sitting, standing, or walking slowly. Use your breath as a focus point or put on a guided meditation. Set an attainable goal for yourself to practice. If you can do all 7 days this week great, just start where you are and notice the cumulative effect of a daily mindfulness break.

As you practice your mind will inevitably wander, this is natural. Simply bring it back to the breath and observe your thoughts float by without getting caught in the content. 

Most people give up meditation because they “can’t stop thinking” or “can’t stop thoughts from popping up”, but this is part of the practice. This is how you exercise your mindful muscles. You consistently catch the mind wandering and bring your attention back to the present moment, a more neutral object of attention, like the breath, sounds, or scanning the sensations in the body.. It is like you are flexing your muscles in that very moment you catch yourself from going down the rabbit hole of automatic thoughts. 

It helps to practice in community and reinforce your practice with supportive readings and inspiration. I recently attended Piero’s Mindfulness and Happiness workshop that watered the seeds of mindfulness and shined a BRIGHT  light on the here and now (and that is some great feat these days) and how I can take charge of creating a happier, more fulfilled, and meaningful life. 

Go to Sacred Treehouse and sign up for the next Mindfulness and Happiness class.

With love and gratitude,

Lizzie Shutt

IG: @livewliz

Blog: www.lizzieshutt.com

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. Lizzie is a student of life and is dedicated to helping others reach a greater state of wellbeing, both inside and out.

Learn to sail through fear.

My personal experience with mindfulness practices and meditation is one of deepening and strengthening, not only self-awareness, but also a strong sense of inner resilience that slowly chips away at the grip that fear has had on me. I truly mean “slowly”. At times it tightens up again, most recently at the onset of the pandemic when I experienced a sort of death gripping panic as the world was sent into a health crisis and then followed by a financial and social crisis. There are so many funny memes about 2020 that try to bring some humor to the madness, mostly geared at wanting it to end with the hope of being replaced with better times. I too look forward to better times, yet I am not willing to wait for the outward changes…I am starting within. 

After getting COVID and being slowed down considerably by the virus and the need to rest, I was given so much extra time to simply rest, to be still, to reflect, and contemplate. There was nothing I could really “do” to feel better, other than to rest and allow my body to battle the virus. Fortunately my immune system won the battle and I am happy to report I have fully recovered. Challenges and hardships often have a silver lining, and this encounter with COVID had many for me, most significantly the time to rest, to strengthen my loving presence, and deepen awareness. The very thing that set off my recent death gripping panic in March of 2020 was what finally broke me free from its grip. Seems crazy, right? I don’t think so. I believe that all the inner resilience that was built up over time and the experiences of knowing some freedom from crippling fear was within me, yet I was jolted by the crisis and disconnected from it until I was still, quiet, and reflective. I found my way home. I am “less” afraid, more hopeful and no longer waiting for the outward world to change in order to feel peace, love, and compassion because I can I feel it again…it is right here, right now. 

Often students will come to Sangha and report frustration when their practices are no longer “helping” them feel peace. After moving through another personal challenge in my life and my practice it occurred to me that this is quite naturally part of the journey. Even if one experiences a direct path to freedom or enlightenment, as long as we are living in the world, the forces of nature and civilization will toss us to the ground again and again. For most the path is as the Bhagavad Gita says, “for even those who tread the path, the stormy senses can  sweep off the mind……..but when you move amidst the world of sense from both attachment and aversion freed, there comes a peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.”

The storms will come, you get swept off course, and then when you are still again the deeply planted practices will resurface and wake you up again. For me what arose were so many of the teachings from my first teacher, Eknath Easwaran, and his Timeless Wisdom. The Illumined Man and St. Francis de Sales, Do not Look with Fear on the changes and chances of this life, rather look to them with full faith……be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations. These passages, along with mindful awareness and self-compassion gave rise to feeling restored, awakened, and renewed and once again less fearful.

May all beings be safe, protected, and free!

With Love and gratitude,

Dr. Patty and The Sacred Treehouse Faculty

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.

We are one 🌏

I have a tendency to be incredibly competitive, and it is during election years that this habitual pattern towards rivalry and striving appears in its most colorful iteration. I can become so deeply passionate about my perspective on the “right”ness of things, that it can seem more than just ambitious and passionate and become polarizing. Like I have something important to prove, and when I can’t or fall short, I can end up feeling less than, depleted and lonely.

It is during these times I have learned to remind myself that is isn’t my perspective on this year’s political platform that makes me (or anyone else really!) valuable and good. Rather, it is my/our most basic humanness that does … the ability to show up for others in times of suffering, a willingness to learn and listen, a belief in the basic goodness of people. Our common experiences of love, pain, joy. When I remember that I am basically good and that my passion has deep roots in wanting to mitigate our collective suffering through a lens of COMpassion and love, it reminds me that others probably feel this same way, too. 

Really, in the grand scheme of things we all want the same things … connection, safety, contentment, to feel loved and cared about. And when I dig deep and see my “opponents” as just the same as me, I soften and approach, instead of putting up my emotional shield and drawing my intellectual sword. I lean in. It is not easy, but I invite you to do the same … “reframe” your position on political issues through the lens of love and connection. How does your basic human goodness inform your perspective? How might these also inform someone with differing beliefs? And see if you soften too 💜. Perhaps with a heart centered view we can see our way into making our world safe, healthy, and filled with love and kindness.  If only we all, all around the globe, did this … what an incredible revolution that would be!

May you find your way toward seeing the greatness within and shine this light toward others,

Nikki and all the Sacred Treehouse Faculty

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.

Curiosity is the Key

Recently I gave a dharmette, a mini dharma talk, on mindfulness and pain and ways to work with pain during mindfulness meditation. In the talk I was mostly referring to physical pain, however the application is also appropriate for emotional pain. In fact, we rarely have one without some form of the other. Mindfulness and pain is an extremely sensitive topic to share with people in chronic pain and must always be shared with tremendous validation of what is being experienced and with nonjudgment on how it is being met. In fact, we humans will all engage in automatic strategies to deny, push away, avoid, and numb pain. This is natural and we will often have a secondary reaction to pain that is even unconscious, a sort of FEAR of the pain. This fear leads to further resistance or avoidance. 

What mindfulness offers is another way to hold our pain, to respond to pain, and potentially a wider way of experiencing it. It is not a. panacea, a quick fix, or an escape. This is a teaching that can be applied to many of us RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW in our life or even saved for later, because life will surely bring us experiences that will give rise to pain. If we turn toward the pain with curiosity, which entails an open mind that is willing to explore and allow it to be there, we will often sense the body softening around it, opening, or making space. Curiosity is an expansive stance and can be practiced during sitting meditation when the discomfort of stillness arises over time for most of us. I see sitting practice as a training ground for game day that eventually comes to those who are not currently in pain, but who are human and one day will experience it knocking at the door. 

I do not subscribe to placing yourself in extreme conditions to build up this tolerance, a sitting practice of 30-40 minutes is an ideal practice for beginning and intermediate students. If you are new to practice, consider taking an MBSR course to develop a beginning practice and learn the foundations of mindfulness. If you have a daily practice, join our Sacred Sangha on Tuesday evening at 6 pm for continued support. 

Simple tips:

  1. Set the intention to increase curiosity and openness.
  2. Do brief moments of opening, followed by returning to an anchor.
  3. Bring attention to the places of pain.
  4. Notice the sensations with curiosity of the quality, the duration, the reactions.
  5. Reduce judgments, stories, and thinking about the sensations.
  6. Remember pain is a signal, listen to it.
  7. Bring kindness and compassion to the body.
  8. There is no failure, if it is too much or too hard- its ok drop it fro now. 
  9. Shift attention away to another object in the moment, a sound, the breath, a mantra.
  10. Remember this is a practice, short and frequent practices are the best way to increase your ability to open to the pain.

 
For readers who are in chronic, or severe physical or emotional pain it is helpful to have a trusted guide by your side. As a trauma sensitive mindfulness teacher and trauma therapist, it is particularly important to cultivate and strengthen the resources required to open to the pain. Simple guided practices can be learned and practiced in daily life that will strengthen your capacity to be with pain. With practice, and over time this can be brought to deeper hurts. Many clients have benefitted from DBT skills group to begin building this foundation and strengthening it through the trauma sensitive MBSR course offered at the Sacred Treehouse.
For more tips on Mindfulness for Trauma Survivors SUBSCRIBE HERE to the Therapeutic Oasis Life Worth Living Blog and be on the lookout for my upcoming tips.
 
With Deep Love and Commitment,
 
Patty and The Faculty of the Sacred Treehouse
 

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

Exercise Your Mindfulness Muscles

If I told you there’s a three-week or a three-year plan to achieving lifelong happiness, peace, and fulfillment, is your mind tempted to listen and read on? 

The mind loves to operate in terms of the “future” and on a “time-frame”. It always is looking for ways to achieve something better than the current state. It may repeat an inner mantra of  “I am not good enough yet, there is more I should be doing” “there are more things I need in order to be happy”. 

I know my mind tells me this a lot and it overwhelms me. I think I “should” be doing more when in reality I need to focus on what is going to truly support me in this moment of my life. The mind can tend to create thoughts that in the  future everything will get better than it is right now. That happiness will be achieved because… “I will be retired,” “I will be fit,” “I will have enough money”. This belief is an illusion.

I often struggle with these same thoughts about the future being better, and when I catch myself I rephrase the thought….“it will be different”. There is no reason why we can not be at peace and feel fulfilled every day, every moment, starting now, even if it is for just a brief moment.  The answer to freeing oneself from thousands of years of human  conditioning does not require you to work hard to spend lots of TIME or MONEY bettering yourself. The answer is simple and includes learning to be present. In this moment you can move away from your thoughts and welcome a sense of presence. You are here to be Here, not There, so I challenge you to practice being Here.

  • Close your eyes
  • Take five deep breaths sighing all the air out on each exhale
  • Take this moment to be right here
  • Be Here Now

This is where mindfulness comes in. Since mindfulness is not the brain’s default mode we must exercise our Mindfulness Muscles. 

Just as you walk your dog, go to the gym, eat and drink water, you can practice mindfulness in your daily life. Don’t do it because you “should”,  practice for the benefit that it brings to your own life and the ripple effect it has on others.  

Mindfulness practice has brought me a greater sense of patience, compassion, empathy, faith, clarity, and curiosity. My mindfulness practice has strengthened my ability to catch myself in a moment of reaction before I say/do something that may cause harm or I may regret. 

This week I challenge you to dedicate 5 minutes to just being with yourself, just as you are, being still, being present. Use your breath as a focal point or use a guided meditation. Set an attainable goal for yourself to practice. If you can do all 7 days this week great, if you can commit to practice 2 days this week that is equally as great!

As you practice… your mind will wander, this is natural. Simply bring it back to the breath and observe your thoughts float by without attaching to them or pushing them away. Return again and again to the sensations of the breath and allow these reputations to build your mindfulness muscle.

Most people give up on meditation because they “can’t stop thinking” “can’t stop thoughts from popping up”, but this is a part of the practice. This is how you exercise your mindful muscles. You constantly bring your attention back to the present moment (breath or sounds). It is like you are flexing your muscles in the moment each time you catch yourself from falling down into the rabbit hole of thoughts. 

As you practice mindfulness meditation, you practice with kindness and care. This way of being PRESENT with your breath, your body, this moment will also be a way of cultivating self-compassion. What a beautiful combo! If you would like further resources or want to talk about different types of practices (there’s more than just sitting meditation) We are here for you!

“Live Dirty, Eat Clean & Green” and just try 5 minutes a day and share your experience on Sacred Treehouse facebook or email me at lizzieshutt3@gmail.com.

Lizzie Shutt and the Sacred Treehouse faculty!

IG: @livewliz

Blog: www.lizzieshutt.com

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.

Meditate as an act of self love

Don’t meditate to fix yourself,
to heal yourself,
to improve yourself,
to redeem yourself.

Rather, do it as an act of love,
of deep warm friendship to yourself.

In this way there is no longer any need
for the subtle aggression of self-improvement,
for the endless guilt of not doing enough.

– Bob Sharples

This weekend I am grateful for participating in the Mindfulness and Happiness workshop at the Sacred Treehouse by Piero Falci. The class was filled with so much wisdom and encouragement to move toward happiness through using many active steps, including the important act of truly SEEING the moment as it is, filled with both positives and negatives. Piero shared the term negativity bias, the nature of the mind to see the negative as a survival instinct, and how this automatic mechanism can become all one focuses attention on, with the exclusion of what else is also present. The mindfulness and happiness workshop is dedicated to helping people exercise the ability to expand and see what else is here, to truly feel it, to soak it in, and to allow participants to see and feel for themselves that life is filled with both and it is not their fault that they see the negative. In fact, the mind has been described as being quite like velcro for negative and teflon for positive emotions and experiences, requiring some effecting at seeing and feeling the positive.

Meditation and mindfulness were shared as ways to cultivate the positive states and to increase the ability to see beyond the negative. What I shared at the end of class was my appreciation that Piero wisely warned participants of the danger of the subtle aggression of self improvement. This encouragement to take in the lessons, the ideas, the suggestions given in class with a warning to use them with care and kindness. So often we can engage in self help courses and daily practices because we are trying to perfect ourselves, to become worthy, or lovable. This is a slippery slope because the underlining belief motivating the action is unworthiness, self criticism, and even self hatred. Actions that stem from this belief are inherently negative and therefore more likely to bring self harm. 

As Bob Sharples writes above, do not meditate (or engage in any self help practices) from a place of fixing or perfecting, rather care for your self from a place love and kindness. For those of us in the world who have struggled with the idea, nonetheless the act of self love, it is perfectly ok to start with the intention to love oneself. 

Try this before you start to meditate, exercise, eat, or practice any other form of self care.

ASK:

Am I trying to perfect/improve/heal/redeem myself? 
If so, set the intention to drop all expectations and continue with loving and caring for yourself just as you are right now…perfectly imperfect.

With gratitude and love,

Patty and all the Sacred Treehouse faculty.

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.

Journey Back to Nature

A wise friend said to me recently that when a person begins to crave being in the outdoors, something in them has shifted spiritually…that they have begun to genuinely embody a felt-sense that they are a part of something bigger.  Life and its pursuits take on a new meaning around this same time, and perspective shifts from one of obligation and going-through-the-motions to one of willingness and gratitude.

I like this way of thinking about spiritual evolution, and I think it also has special value for those of us who may need a little perspective-shift kickstart.  Are you someone who feels disconnected to your purpose in life or from others?  Do you feel annoyed and frustrated about work or day-to-day tasks?  Are you using alcohol or other substances to distract you from feelings of anxiety, overwhelm or to help you sleep? Have you become cynical or jaded when you were once optimistic and excited about making a difference in the world?  For people like me, who work in a helping profession, and for all of us who bear witness to others’ suffering, the above symptoms of empathy fatigue (also known as compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious/secondary trauma) can wreak havoc on our ability to function and on our sense of self-worth.
 

Taking time out to enjoy nature.

Stepping into nature and allowing yourself to notice the intricacies and complexity of the world around you can be an antidote to burnout and empathy fatigue.  Surrounding ourselves with Mother Nature’s landscape is an instant reminder of our interconnectedness, and can lead to feeling re-inspired and rejuvenated. In fact, research suggests that experiencing nature with a beginner’s mind, allowing oneself to appreciate and savor through fresh eyes, is connected to increases in feelings of helpfulness, generosity, and ethical behavior.  Being in nature is also associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and rumination, and can foster clearer thinking and more positive feelings about self and others.

So step outside into nature…if not a possibility IRL (in real life) in this present moment, then maybe journey outside in your mind.  Notice what you see, what you hear, what you smell.  Surrender to that sense of awe that comes.

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.

Let go of resistance and open…

“When you resist, the energy has no place to go. It gets stuck in your psyche and seriously affects you. It blocks your heart’s energy flow and causes you to feel closed and less vibrant…. This is the human predicament.”
Mickey Singer, “The Untethered Soul.”
 
 
            Last week I was on spiritual retreat that because of covid 19 needed to be held online.  I was disappointed not to be in nature at a beautiful retreat center but was determined to make the most of the time to go inward. Then through a series of unexpected events, I ended up having my home space to myself. I was instantly freed up of any expectations upon me. But as I began to settle into myself I became aware how filled with bodily tension, non-stop mental rehearsing, and a deep over-extended fatigue in me.  The sense of peace I had so deeply longed for was seemingly out of reach— at times wildly out of reach. So much for spiritual upliftment!  I felt more like five miles of bad, stormy road than a peaceful person on The Path….
            I just kept staying with the teaching, which thankfully returned us over and over towards our true being and essence; that which is unchangeable. Despite how compelling our lives are, sometimes blissfully and sometimes painfully, what is occurring is in fact coming and going. We are not the series of experienced events and resulting sensations/thoughts but in fact we are that which witnessesthe events and experiences coming and going.  So how to connect deeply with this understanding and stay connected to it?   I was pondering this when a monsoon rainstorm arrived.
            Without thinking I jumped into the pool with eyes just above the waterline to remain immersed in the warm pool and suddenly my eyes landed on the impact each drop of rain was making on the waters’ surface. Because of the force of the rain the drops were impacting the surface of the pool strongly, resulting in water bursting upward with each drop. I sat stunned, realizing that this is what the teacher was taking about!  Our essence is like a pool of awareness, impacted by events, even temporarily seeming changed by them, but in fact everything is just occurring—rising and falling and returning again.  I watched the projections of water rise up, take on the colors around them, shape into tiny geysers and then as quickly as they rose, return again to be absorbed back into the pool waters; completely gone.  
            
            Rupert Spira says:
            “….awareness is our true body. See clearly that all the sensations that we normally consider to be (impacting) our body are actually free floating in the   limitless, borderless space of awareness. Awareness is the true body, the true ‘container’ of all things, and everything is made out of its own transparent, luminous substance….”
 
Suddenly the previous experiences of the past few days just fell away. A full, spacious, intimate, knowing, peaceful presence seeped into the crevices which only moments before had been filled with pain, tension, resistance and fear.  I understood with absolute clarity that our primary goal is to stay open to the fullness of our Being, then from thisplace become open to whatever life is presenting. Doing this changes the lens on all that is perceived, thereby changing the resulting thoughts, beliefs, and storylines. Eventually building a stronger and stronger connection to our imperturbable Essence.

 Become the pool of awareness, 
watch and observe
 rain, sun, wind come and go, 
It’s Love in action.
  

With love,

 Anni and the Sacred Treehouse faculty 

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.

Take control of your mind!

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius
 
Marcus Aurelius was instructing us that when we take control of our minds, we will reduce the tendency to wander into the past or future and furthermore, this present focused awareness would give us the inner strength (and wisdom) needed to respond to the challenges of the day. This ability to control our own minds leads to greater discernment in what we have control over and what we do not. If we spend our time and energy directed toward controlling our mind, through meditation and mindfulness, we will grow stronger. On the hand, if we spend our time consumed with the past or worrying about the future, we will grow weak and exhausted.
Before you start judging yourself, Marcus Aurelius, or this blog message it is important to consider the  2010 study by Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth. They made a startling discovery that people spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. These psychologists came to two conclusions:

  1. The human mind is a wandering mind.
  2. The wandering mind is an unhappy mind. 

 Mind wandering may have some negative consequences, yet it is important to note that without being able to learn from the past and plan for the future, our species would likely not have survived, so mind-wandering served an evolutionary purpose. You are simply human, and your mind will wander. Unfortunately mind wandering does not always serve us well in today’s world; in fact, we often overuse it to our detriment. When mind wandering serves as a coping mechanism it can gain power from getting reinforced in the moment. It later becomes an automatic habit and it is believed that many people who self-identify as ADHD, may simply be caught in an automatic pattern and be over-using this survival skill. 

Many people resist learning to meditate or practice mindfulness tools because they experience the mind wandering and give up. Rather than throwing in the towel, I encourage my students to practice nonjudgment, to notice the mind wandering and then to simply bring attention back to the present moment or object of attention. This is a moment of mindfulness that leads to strengthening our ability to control and direct our mind. Just like every repetition of lifting weights strengthen our muscles, redirecting attention back to present moment builds and strengthens the control we have of our mind. 

Mindfulness in daily life can be a simple way to weave this mental conditioning into a routine. This is simply choosing to focus attention on one thing in the moment and sustain all attention for a designated time on the task at hand. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), skills group is an excellent place to gain mindfulness skills to facilitate emotion regulation for people who struggle with mental health issues. Some of my favorite ways to practice that arose from facilitating DBT fro the past 20 years are when I am eating, brushing my teeth, showering, doing the dishes, and driving. I also have found what the researchers found, I am far happier, and derive enjoyment and peace when I am fully present, even when doing dishes!

Formal mindfulness training is essential to derive the strength that Aurelius was pointing to in the quote. Setting aside time, 20-45 minutes daily to train attention to be present focused, either directing attention to one object or practicing open choiceless awareness. Using guided practices can be extremely helpful for meditation beginners and even for well-trained students who experience a stressor (most likely all of us right now!). Return to online classes or use apps as a guide. A few of my favorites:

  1. Insight timer
  2. Calm
  3. Head Space
  4. Glo
  5. Stop Breathe Think

 
If you have been away from practice, do not fret, just start again. Need support for your practice? Contact me at askdrpatty@gmail.com I am willing to coach you toward rebuilding a daily practice.
 
Here’s to today, whatever kind of day it is!
 
Sending Metta to all beings,
 
Dr. Patty and The Sacred Treehouse Faculty

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.