Loving Kindness for Donald Trump

For this Valentine’s Day I intend to spend the day, to the best of my ability, in Loving Kindness. Loving Kindness is a practice of developing compassion and friendliness toward yourself and others. It’s a mindfulness practice that comes out of the Buddhist tradition and it helps us to cultivate an open heart, to see our habits and judgements and perhaps to thwart negative thoughts and actions.

This practice is about noticing your emotions and their interplay with your thoughts. In the full formal practice, you send kind thoughts to yourself, someone you love, someone for whom you have complicated feelings, someone who is neutral to you and finally, to someone you find challenging. The intention is to watch your emotions as you move through each category.

On Valentine’s Day I’ll choose someone for each category and send them loving kindness throughout the day. I’ll also send it to myself, first thing in the morning. As for the person I find challenging, I’ll be sending some loving kindness to Donald Trump.

The practice goes like this: set yourself up for meditation by settling into a comfortable position and turning your attention inward. Notice prominent body sensations, notice how your breath is moving and become aware of the state of your mind – are your thoughts very active or relatively calm? No need to change anything, just notice. You can keep watching your breath if you need a place to focus. Once you’ve come to a quiet state, turn your awareness to your emotions. Just see what is present. If the emotions are difficult, perhaps you can turn toward them and investigate. If they are too strong, you can return to the breath and try this practice another time.

When you are ready, send loving kindness to yourself by repeating these words with your inner voice.

May I be well
May I be happy
May I be free from suffering
May I live with ease

Notice your emotions as you hear these sentiments. How does it feel to receive these compassionate words? There’s no right or wrong way to feel. Just become aware of what’s happening.

The practice is then repeated with someone you love unconditionally. It could be a parent or grandparent or a teacher or mentor. Visualize them in front of you and send them kindness using these words or others that feel appropriate:

May you be well
May you be happy
May you be free from suffering
May you live with ease

Notice your emotions. Whatever arises is welcomed. Let it all be there.

You don’t have to do all the categories in one session. You can break it up into shorter sessions. The next categories are: someone for whom you have complicated feelings, someone who is neutral to you and someone you find challenging.

As afore mentioned, part of this Valentine’s Day’s practice is to send Donald Trump some loving kindness. He is someone I find challenging.

Donald Trump,
May you be well
May you be happy
May you be free from suffering
May you live with ease

On a soul level this works just fine for me. I don’t have a problem wishing him, or anybody well. I sincerely wish him peace and contentment. As someone who is changing the course of this country very rapidly, I have concern and I’m noticing that that concern is making my heart tighten in fear. So the work is in noticing that tightness and fear, letting it be there, repeating the words with sincerity and watching what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe something.

And even as I take actions in protest to what is happening – marching, calling congressmen – how can I keep my heart open? How can I wish everyone well, even those who seem to wish me or my loved ones ill-will? How can I stay firm in my belief that everyone has a core of goodness? That is the work of cultivating loving kindness.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Renunciation

This week I had my first colonoscopy. Wow, what an experience! As some of you may know, the hardest part is preparing which involves some fasting and then an uncomfortable period of evacuating. The interesting piece for me is the fasting, the renunciation. No grains, no nuts, no seeds, no corn; the process starts about five days before and on the day before, no solid food, only clear liquid.

I’ve fasted before and also done month-long cleanses so this renunciation is not new to me. It is such a good lesson in seeing where I cling and watching the body and mind’s conversation. The body says “HUNGRY!” and these days I say, “Good, it’s good to feel hunger.” And then I realize how emotionally dependent I’ve become on food – that it relieves my stress, it is my comfort, it is my reward after anything challenging – such that I rarely experience hunger in a big way anymore. So I think it’s good to feel this hunger during fasting. Not only because reveals this emotional pattern, but also because the body goes through a cleansing process when it is in a fasting state. And, I should clarify, for these colonoscopy fasts, there are filling juices and drinks to be had so that hunger does get sated. It is not one long period of hunger.

Luckily, I know that the hunger will end soon. That it’s healthy for me to feel it. I’m grateful that it’s not a life situation where I have no choice. I have food if I really need it. Then I pray for those who are suffering from serious hunger and starvation, those who have no choice. They have no food. May they find relief soon.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dream Yoga

I’ve been interested lately in Dream yoga. This was sparked by an article by Andrew Holecek and his research on the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. The basic premise is that in sleep you are most spiritually awake – a vast array of experiences are available to you; you are not encumbered by the earth’s physical laws; the deep patterns of your subconscious will choose the direction you go (here’s where the practice of lucid dreaming comes in). And when you are awake, we are most spiritually asleep – limited by our physical experience and by the habituated patterns of our egos. If we could see our wakeful experience as dreamlike – not permanent, illusory ­– we would cultivate a different perspective on our sense of self, and the arising of various circumstances and phenomena.

Consider this as a kind of Jedi mind trick for yourself: Deep sleep is reality. Try to remember your dreams and set intentions for what you’d like to see happen. Wakefulness is not reality – it is all changeable and impermanent, for the good or the not-so-good. View it with less attachment. Set intentions for what you’d like to see happen.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Importance of Retreats

 

Have you been curious about retreats – what they’re like, how you’d benefit? Why not just go on a vacation instead? While vacations can certainly be inspiring and rejuvenating, retreats can be an important time for self-care, for realigning with the vision for your life or for evaluating what is really important for you. They can be especially important if you are on a healing journey, whether that is physical or emotional/mental. It is time away to get much needed rest, regain strength, and to listen to messages your body may be sending you. A retreat can create a state of internal peace and spaciousness, which in turn can allow for insight, a perspective shift or even a significant transformation.

Yoga and meditation retreats can be especially supportive in the healing process. They offer the opportunity to experience a more sustained shift into the quiet, calm state that these two ancient practices can generate. Facilitators often go deeper into practices that you might only taste in a typical yoga or meditation class such as yoga nidra (the yoga of sleep) or extended meditations.

In retreat mode, the nervous system has the opportunity to slow down, to shift into the parasympathetic end of its pendulum, which is the part that says, “Everything is okay, we can relax, no need to stress out.” The immune system likes this and can operate more efficiently in this state. Retreat mode is also an opportunity to see how patterns of anxiety thinking may be affecting the body. And even if discomfort is present, perhaps you’ll come to a place where you simply allow it to be present and listen to what the body has to say. If that sounds impossible, you may actually be primed for a retreat.

If you are unsure if a retreat is the right thing for you, you can give yourself a taste of retreating even just for one hour. Do something to feed your soul – walk in the woods, take a hot bath, do some journaling. Doing one or all of these things could give you an idea of the potential a retreat could bring to your life. It’s best to do these alone, or at least tell those around you that you will be in silence so that you can listen deeply to your own inner drives, your inner world.

Retreats are an opportunity to see what is really going on under the surface of your busy-ness; to allow mental chatter to slow down so that you can feel what’s connected to that chatter, even if it is uncomfortable. Often, when we look at our situations straight on, they are not as scary as our minds build them up to be.

Maybe this healing journey you’re on is not so scary, but simply an opportunity to make the lifestyle changes you’ve been telling yourself you’ll make someday. So then a retreat is just a much-needed break from your routine, an opportunity to make those changes or learn some new methods for self-care.

In any case, a retreat offers many benefits, the best of which might be creating breathing space to just be. It could be the best vacation of your life!

Come to my day-long retreat, Awaken the Healer Within
Saturday, October 29th, 2016
10:00am – 3:00pm (registration at 9:30am with tea and coffee)
Houston Room in the Parish House
at The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martins Lane, Philadelphia PA 19118

Posted in Uncategorized

THIS is the Best Part!

I just returned from a short vacation. Before going, I created a mantra – “THIS is the best part!” What’s that about? Let me explain…

A mantra can be a word or phrase used for concentration in meditation or, in my case, this mantra was a statement repeated frequently to remind me of an intention. The intention was to not cling to the vacation. “Clinging” is a term used in Buddhism to describe our tendency to want the good stuff to last, to never end. Clinging leads to anxiety about the ending of this good stuff. I was concerned that the vacation was too short, just a long weekend, and that I would feel deprived for not having a more substantial  vacation. I wanted it to be great and to fulfill all of my vacation needs – to get enough rest, to explore new territories, to laugh/eat/dance with friends, to get absorbed in a book, to get a different perspective on my life – and all the other great things that come when you get away. I wanted it to be longer and I was clinging to it before it even started (thus, I was anxious). I wanted my mantra to help me recognize each moment for the beautiful thing that it was – and there were so many!

I was aware that this “clinging” was also about the end of summer. The end of the glorious weather that takes us outdoors; the end of playtime; the end of flowering gardens (though we still have some time with that); the end of barbecues and beach days. I love summer. I get depressed when it ends. This depression is really grief – the loss of the season. Grief only happens when we are not in this moment, not present with what’s right in front of us. I’ve been aware for a while that I cling to summer. I start clinging to it in May. So this mantra was to help me with that also – this is the best part! This one right here where I appreciating the moment!IMG_0123

And really, to keep it all in perspective, my end-of-summer depression ends around September 10th, and then I fall in love with Autumn – crisp air, colorful fall leaves, soups, sweaters and boots, pumpkin pie. What’s not to love?

I used my mantra well on my vacation and explained it to my friends so that when I said it out loud – over a fabulous tapas dinner, in a treehouse with a bunch of kids, enjoying affection from a big happy dog, playing “I spy” on the long drive – they would all smile knowingly. Yes, THIS IS the best part. Somehow naming all the great times helped me to realize how many wonderful moments there were, to acknowledge and appreciate each one fully and then to let it go. There are so many great moments in any given day. We just don’t usually acknowledge them because we’re often swept up in thinking about the future or past. And truly, this moment right here – the one where you’re reading this line – is the only one we have.

IMG_0122

Posted in Uncategorized

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie

gratitude

I often recommend cultivating a gratitude practice to the cancer survivors I work with. Why? Because it is easy to become consumed by anxiety and fear and to get overwhelmed by everything you need to do to take care of yourself. Gratitude – thinking of something you’re grateful for and feeling that in the heart – shifts you out of negativity. That in turn has an affect on the body. It affects mood and your sense of well-being.

I use gratitude as a way to stop my chattering mind and come into the present moment. Sometimes I’m acutely aware of this chattering “monkey mind,” so instead of letting it run wild, I think of things I’m grateful for. There are usually plenty of things even when I’m not having a good day. I’m grateful that the weather is nice or if it’s not, that I have a warm car that is running well. I’m grateful that I have people around me that love me; that I have an awesome pair of cats; that I live in a country that, while it has its problems, is still pretty great; that I get to do work that is gratifying. What I notice then is a shift in the feeling tone in my body. Feeling tone is a particular quality of awareness measured in terms of pleasantness and unpleasantness. Gratitude shifts me into a pleasant feeling tone.

We want to cultivate a pleasant feeling tone because it means the nervous system is in parasympathetic mode (PNS) and not in the stress response or the sympathetic nervous system. I’ve written about this in several posts including Yoga Nidra and the Parasympathic Nervous System. The PNS is the relaxation response or the “rest and digest” aspect of our autonomic nervous system and it’s crucial for healing. Research has shown a multitude of benefits that arise from the relaxation response including reduced pain, reduced hypertension (high blood pressure), improved sleep and reduced anxiety.

You can practice gratitude toward other people – your support people, caregivers; the doctors and nurses and other people who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping you heal. You can be grateful for a smile from a stranger on the street or a bubbly personality on the other end of the phone. Cultivate gratitude for the small brightenings of the day.

You can also direct gratitude toward yourself. Thank yourself for getting to yoga class, for taking care of yourself. Thank your self for being patient or for enduring discomfort, fear, and uncertainty during a difficult time. Even when things are especially hard, being grateful for what’s going right can be helpful.

I feel gratitude each day for the circumstances that have brought me to this fascinating work. I feel gratitude that my job is to work with the whole person. I’m continuously heartened that so many people share their deepest hopes, fears and loves with me. I’m grateful that this work asks me to be my best self.

Gratitude can connect you to your heart and, given that we live in a world that seems to require us to reside in our intellects, this is a gift. Gratitude connects us to ourselves and to others through the heart.

Posted in Uncategorized

Yoga Nidra and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

I recently returned from a teacher training on yoga nidra. Yoga nidra translates as yogic sleep and it’s a practice that guides participants into that realm between wakefulness and sleep. It’s much like hypnosis however the nidra practitioner is encouraged to stay awake and alert.

What I found most phenomenal was the state of deep relaxation. Being a yoga practitioner and regular meditator, I thought I understood what relaxation felt like in my body, but yoga nidra took it to a whole new level. Incredibly relaxed yet still lucid, I was guided through different layers of my being – the body, the breath, sensory perceptions like hot and cold, and imagery – all while I felt, aware, safe and protected.

It turns out that this deeply relaxed state is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) in full force. The PNS is the relaxation response and it’s crucial for healing. The body can’t begin to repair and restore itself, to heal, until we move out of the stress response, which is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and into the parasympathetic nervous system. I’ve touched on this in two previous posts, A Relaxation Revolution and Meditation and the Relaxation Response.

The way we live today, so technically connected and with our schedules so packed, we hang out in the stress response. We’re attuned to it. It’s the norm for us to constantly be concerned with what’s next or how can I fill this moment? What else do I need to do or how can I entertain myself now? We stay ‘on guard’ and thus are chronically activating the stress response. It’s part of our goal-achieving mentality and it has served us well . . . up to a point. And that point is when we can’t turn it off.

I recommend that you know what gets you into the relaxation response (PNS) – a hot bath, a walk in the woods, a massage, a love-fest with your pet – and use these often. It’s for your health! If you’d like to try yoga nidra, here’s a sample from my teacher, Jennifer Reis.

I’ll be offering a yoga nidra session in Mt. Airy on Sunday, May 15th at Springboard Studio. Details are here. Let me know if you’d like to join!

Posted in Uncategorized