I simply had to follow up on my post from yesterday, since I laughed at my own shortcomings as a meditator (craisins or no craisins -- that is the question). Today's article in Science Daily, shows that mindfulness meditation is no laughing matter, but is proving to be effective in reducing loneliness in older adults (I'm not quite there yet - consider myself a youngish middle-aged) which is becoming a problem of epic proportions. It also helps seniors avoid depression and inflammatory issues which can lead to a whole host of diseases, both physical and neurological. Click here to check out this newest research: Mindfulness Meditation reduces loneliness in older adults, study shows. I am now feeling chastised for poking fun, though I was poking it at myself, not the technique. Just want to be clear about that! I'm off to buy a giant sized bag of craisins now -- Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!
Hello, dear readers! Today's post is a followup to my July 14 post in which I recommended the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD., and his mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) method of meditation taught since 1979 at University of Massachusettes. Since I have not been actively practicing MBSR recently, I decided it was intellectually dishonest of me to be recommending it to you without a refresher course. So, I purchased the Mindfulness for Beginners CD (set of 2) in which he does a basic introduction to the concepts and then a group of guided meditation exercises to start the beginner on the right track.
The CD arrives and I am very impressed with his humility and clarity in defining the concepts, history of practice, some research details, and an impressive array of excellent benefits of meditation. The fun comes during the opening track of the second "practice" CD.
Envision me seated on my yoga mat, ready & eager to begin the MBSR process. The first exercise involves a raisin (or two). I have no raisins on hand, so I substitute craisins instead. Close enough. (Try not to read anything into the craze part!)
Kabat-Zinn's soothing voice sets up the awareness-inducing concept of perceiving the raisin/craisin with all your senses. OK, so far, so good. I gaze with intensely focused awareness at my craisin, holding it in my fingers, turning it this way and that to observe all its wrinkly parts. Then I bring it to my nose, as instructed to immerse my consiousness in the scent of my craisin, inhaling its perfume deeply in full awareness. At this point, wanting to connect with all our senses, Kabat-Zinn suggests lifting the raisin to our ears. Um, what? I don't hear any craisin voices. Thank goodness!!
Next, he exhorts us to bring the raisin/craisin toward our mouth, observing how that feels, noticing the way our bodies anticipate the food by producing saliva. OK, check, and check. I bring the craisin to slowly to my lips and gently touch it against them, feeling the craisin with my lips and then the tip of my tongue. Then I put the craisin in my mouth to feel and taste its crinkly texture, only to have him say, "Don't put the raisin in your mouth yet." I spit it out. Gee, you could have said that before the 30 second silence, I thought, a bit grumpily.
OK, now I'm contemplating a soggy, saliva-soaked but unchewed craisin in my hand, when he gives (finally) the instruction to put it in my mouth. I repeat this action. Then I am advised to chew it one, two, three, five times, which I proceed to do with total awareness of this small fruit. Now, I am chewing and chewing until there are only tiny craisin-shreds left, and finally, with great awareness, I swallow the craisin and feel it travel down my esophagas, reaching the stomach. He says, "Don't swallow the raisin yet." Akk! (I have to say here that either his timing or mine are really off here!)
Now I sit on my yoga mat pondering the already-swallowed-craisin dilemma. I can't un-swallow it. Well, I could, but that would be beyond gross and disgusting and I won't go there. My solution: get another craisin and start over. I do this, sighing gratefully, that my awareness of the craisin has been only marginally disturbed by this little overly-anticipatory act. I do NOT beat myself up for messing up my first attempt at mindfulness meditation on fruit. Nope, I don't. I just continue on, doing some of those deep breaths that are supposed to calm you. Deeeeeeeeep Breath!
But now, the phenomenon of monkey mind has been awakened and is swinging out of control on the tree branches of my thoughts, which are admittedly scattered all over by now. OK, I'm human. And this is humorous. I start laughing out loud, after first berating the CD for having misled me on when to swallow the silly craisin.
By the time my little episode of hilarity is over, I feel that I have lost the essense of what was intended by this exercise.
The CD has moved on to the next lesson. It's easier. Watching the breath. I can do that. Can't I? He can't very well tell us to stop breathing!
I lay down on my mat and observe my breath, with only an occassional giggle bubbling up from monkey mind. Then I let the soothing voice lead me into awareness of zzzzzzzzzzzzz.......
I never said it was easy, did I? To be continued...
Does your life feel overstuffed? I'm talking about that slightly claustrophobic panicky feeling you get when you look around your home and see tons of stuff that you either no longer use, doesn't fit, is broken, is too valuable to give away, you have no storage place to keep...you know, the clutter & paraphernalia of a busy life, that seems to grow and take on a life of its own (my personal theory is it multiplies while we are sleeping). Well, unless you are a seriously organized and disciplined person, this shoe will fit you, (oh no, shoes! I don't even want to go there)! Almost everyone has some piles of "stuff" that they have been meaning to sort through, dispatch to another location or otherwise handle.
If you have ever spent money on a storage unit, especially over a long period of time, such as a year, only to finally open the boxes and realize that you paid a whole lot of money to store what is essential useless, outdated or otherwise not worth keeping -- I'm talking to YOU!
First, you are not alone. Most Americans are addicted to their "stuff", and it isn't by accident, but by design. This short video is an absolutely mind-blowing expose on the story of stuff -- how and why we accumulate, how much has to do with planned obsolescense, and what the true, hidden costs of stuff are. That's the monetary costs, not the psychic ones.
There are very real mental and emotional costs and a severe energy drain caused by having too much stuff and clutter in our homes and lives, and these are costs we can only evaluate for ourselves. I know in my own life, the time I waste dealing with clutter and stuff is very significant and a huge drain on my energy reserves. I think the impact of this video has changed that--once and for all. It's called the Story of Stuff and is produced by Annie Leonard. Check out the website at www.storyofstuff.org and watch the video below. See what you think. Ready to get unstuffed?
I am coming to realize, more and more, that nothing in life is as important as deep inner peace. Everything in our lives is seen through the filter of our state of mind, and if fear, the antithesis to peace and love, has been allowed to creep in (or bulldoze its way in!), then it crowds out the positive emotions, stunting them and crushing their growth. It is easy to blame this mental/emotional phenomenon on outer circumstances. Many people are facing huge challenges at present -- yet the outer fear-inducing specters cannot and do not define who we are -- unless we allow them to do so. It seems to me that keeping your inner peace and serenity is only gained by taking your power back from fear (a helpful acronym to defuse the power of fear - False Evidence Appearing Real) and consciously making a choice as to how you react to the outer circumstance.
I am reminded of a wonderful lesson taught by the beloved minister and founder of Unity of Naples Church, Jack D. Kern, in which there was a series of events befalling a man and each one, as presented, seemed to be "bad", yet when the next event happened, it reversed the preceding one, thus turning into a "good" thing, and vice versa. I cannot recall all the details of the story, but to give you an idea it went something like this: A man was out tending his farm when a neighbor came by to exchange news and, asking after the farmer's family, he was told that his son had gotten a beautiful, wild stallion. The neighbor said, "Oh, that's good". The farmer then replied, "No, that's bad, because my son broke his leg when thrown from the horse while trying to tame it". The neighbor exclaimed, "Oh, that's bad"! To which the farmer said, "No, that was actually good, because my son was exempted from going to war because of the broken leg". The story continues in this fashion, and you get the gist...
The moral of the story is that things are not what they appear, and the only thing we can truly control is how we "judge" what happens and react to it.
One of the very best tools to train our minds to access inner peace and to slow down the perception of time rushing by at a frantic pace, is meditation. I have explored various kinds of meditation techniques over the years and I find benefit in each of them. The key is finding one that you can and will actually do, daily. There has been a great deal of research done over the years on the multiple benefits of meditation -- not only are there proven and documented health benefits (stress reduction, lowering of blood pressure, faster healing time), but also there are great mental and emotional benefits (emotional centering, prevention or improvement of depression -- often out-performing pharmaceuticals and with no side effects). Perhaps the greatest benefit of learning to meditate is that it gives you a sense of your own power, lets you take a step back from knee-jerk, habitual reactions and actively choose your way of responding to life's adventures and challenges. It allows you to be less "judgmental" and more in the moment, so you can experience more of life's richness and beauty more directly and deeply.
If you are curious about meditation and have never tried it, you might be daunted by all the various techniques and mystique about it, but it is really very simple. As Rev. Jack Kern used to teach in his short course in meditation, "Sit down and shut up" -- is all you need to know -- the basics. Add to that just observing your breath for five minutes, and there you are -- meditating!
If you want to try out a more structured, time-tested, well researched approach, I recommend the books and CDs of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. (see reference in Wikipedia) founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the creator of the eight-week course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), taught since 1979, it is the most well-known and studied clinical meditation program in the world. His books and meditation practices on CD are available at his website (click his name above) or at the usual outlets online such as Amazon (link below).
Our world is so sorely in need of peace, both inner and outer, and it would indeed alleviate so much suffering, our own and others', if we find and use practices that foster inner peace & serenity. Happy exploring of your own inner space!
"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it well and serenely..." Ralph Waldo Emerson
This Emerson quote is one of my favorites because it is hopeful. It allows that we fumbling, mistake-prone humans, while masters at creating absurdities in our lives, can move beyond them into serenity. That's certainly good news for me, since many days I am totally astounded by the absurd, in my own life and pretty much everywhere I look. Just reading my email and facebook page presents me with enough absurd fodder to sink a psyche, so I now look more for the little idiosyncratic items that point the way out of striving for perfection, to rise above the absurd. It's taken me most of my life to finally accept that I'm not going to get anywhere close to perfection -- and that's perfectly fine! I would much rather be happy than be right!
I have on my desk a quote that says, "I enter this day with a peaceful heart." I read it every day and strive to live it. Some days are easier than others in that regard, but what I realize more and more is that peace & serenity are choices we make, not unattainable states, only for the chosen few enlightened. No, peace is not only possible, it is essential. If we don't cultivate it in our own hearts, where on earth will we find it?
I have just begun reading a very special book. Normally, I would finish it before sharing anything of it on my blog post, but I have the sense of having found a true gem, a touchstone, an epic of inspiration -- and of course, that makes me want to share it with YOU right now (OK, patience is not one of my virtues)! The book is "Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want" by Martha Beck. If you are feeling in need of some navigational help in uncharted territory, this is the beacon shining in the darkness, or at least it is for me. I believe we each have a life purpose, a higher calling to fulfill, and it can be elusive because we are taught to stop listening to our heart, our inner wisdom, our wise, artistic, creative child within, and we lose the vision of infinite possibility that life can hold. We shelve our sense of adventure and exploration, exchanging it for the "norm" or what is expected of us by family and society. At least some of us do. Martha Beck is the antidote for this particular poison. See if she can assist you in reaffirming your own inner wisdom, unleashing your creativity and healing power, and reviving your faith in your own potential.
I am a singer, a writer, a craftswoman, a student of life and of Spirit, a wife, a friend, an inquisitive adventurer on the learning path. Seeking, sensing, sifting and now connecting! Please join the fun by leaving a comment or passing on a favorite post via your social network. As you can tell from the category list, my interests are varied and somewhat eclectic. I am seeking all that brings joy & excitement to life, purpose & passion to our daily round. I am curious about pretty much everything.