When I tell people that I teach meditation, a common response I hear is “I tried to meditate and I just can’t do it. I can’t stop thinking.” Well, guess what? Everyone can learn to meditate! All you need to do is WANT to learn and practice!
The biggest misconception people have is that when you meditate you stop all thoughts and make your mind go blank. That is virtually impossible. Our brains are wired to think. When we learn to meditate, we learn to observe our thoughts and let them go. We focus our attention on an anchor (for example: our breath, a word or phrase, an image) and when we notice that our mind has wandered, we gently bring our attention back to our anchor. I know…easier said than done. But, like any new skill that you want to learn, you need to practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
I have been meditating for several years and it amazes me how much easier it is to quiet my mind. When I notice myself repeating and rehashing the same thoughts over and over, I pause and come back to the present moment where everything is exactly as it is. So much more peaceful to live in the present moment. Give it a try!
The other day I got into my car to head to an appointment. Before I realized what I was doing, I found myself heading instead to Wegman’s. It was like my car was on autopilot. Actually, it was like I was on autopilot. Where was my mind? Certainly not on the task at the hand. It was more likely going over something that happened earlier or thinking about something in the future. I was clearly NOT focused on what I was doing.
Most people spend a lot of time thinking about the past or future. We are reviewing things that annoyed us, people who wronged us, what we could have or should have said. Or maybe we are reminiscing about someone or something that we miss. I know that I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about what I need to do, planning and worrying about outcomes. But the reality is that the past is gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The only thing that is real is right here and right now. The present moment.
This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is the practice of noticing when our thoughts are focused anywhere else but in this moment. It is called a practice because it does not come naturally to most people. We need to train our “mindfulness muscle” to observe when our thoughts are straying and then kindly and without judgement bring ourselves back to this moment. Each time we become aware that we are caught up anywhere but here, we simply redirect our attention to the present moment.
Sound challenging? It is! But the more we practice, the easier and sooner we notice when we are lost in thought so we can steer ourselves back to now. There are so many benefits of being mindful and in the moment. For me, I feel much calmer. I spend less time tied up in knots about something that is over and done with or hasn’t happened yet and more time enjoying what I am doing.
Give it a try. The next time you get in the car to go somewhere, be fully in the car and notice everything about the experience of driving and getting to where you are heading. When you have a snack, try eating it without any other distractions. Notice the crunch of the nuts or the sweetness of the grape. When you wash your hands, be aware of how nice the warm water feels and give your fingers a gentle massage. This moment is the only thing that is truly real, so I invite you to practice being present and see how you feel. And, please let me know if I can help you learn how to be more mindful!
I love spring! I love everything about it … even the rain! I love watching nature come alive. Listening to the birds chirping with excitement. Seeing the grass turn green again. Watching the crocuses and daffodils bloom. It is amazing to experience and one of the things I love most about being in a climate with distinct seasons. Spring can be fickle … 70s one day and snow flurries the next. But, it is all ok because it builds the anticipation of warm, sunny summer days.
When I was growing up, my bedroom window looked out to the giant oak tree in front of my house. The window was eye-level with the branches of the tree. At the start of spring, I would look out my window each day, waiting for tiny buds to appear on the tree. I would watch, sometimes impatiently, for that day each year when I would open my window shade, look out and see actual leaves on the tree. It seemed to happen overnight, usually after a good rain. I named that day “Pop Day”. That was the day that, lo and behold, the world was green again. I would walk around all day smiling and humming and feeling happy and in-tune with nature. I would marvel at the pure magic of that day. When my children were young, I told them about “Pop Day” and have fond memories of that day each year when we would announce to one another … Happy Pop Day!
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. Being fully present. Noticing the world around you. Paying attention to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations. When we are mindful, we notice things that we overlook and ignore when we are lost in thoughts about the past or future. Take some time today to go outside and look around. Notice the grass and the trees and flowers popping up. Smell spring. Listen closely to the sounds of spring. And when you do, wish yourself and the world a Happy Pop Day!
As I wrap up my sixty-first year on earth, I am reflecting on my life’s journey and feeling grateful for all the lessons I have learned along the way. Sixty-one years. That number feels surreal to me.
At yoga today, the instructor was talking about the miracle of our bodies. It’s so true. My heart has been beating non-stop (thankfully) for almost 62 years! Think about that! I don’t own anything that has lasted that long. My skin has kept my insides safe and protected. My neck has held my head up. My legs have carried my wherever I have schlepped my body. An absolute miracle. When I get a cut on my finger, it heals! All I have to do is feed it, hydrate it and let it rest. It takes care of the rest. Amazing!
A birthday is a wonderful time to stop for a few moments to reflect on the miracle of life and all that it encompasses. To give thanks for not just the wonder of my body, but also, and maybe especially, my soul. For the ability to love. For the ability to forgive. For the ability to accept. For resilience in the face of challenges. For all of it! And to remind myself, again, that today is the first day of the rest of my life!
It’s March! How did that happen so fast? February came and went in the blink of an eye. One of the classes I taught last month was for a group of senior citizens at a local retirement community. Ages ranged from 70s to 90s. How cool is that?! The best part was being able to meet with them in person (!) … socially distanced and masked, in the same room and not on a screen! That was a real treat!
The most interesting thing that I learned while teaching this group was that their experiences and comments were very similar to younger adults I have taught. They asked many of the same questions and had a lot of the same challenges and reactions.
The best part for me was spending time with these older adults open to learning new skills and wanting to grow and try new things. I just loved seeing that. I know that is how I want to be at that age.
It is NEVER too late to learn something new. Keep learning and growing and experiencing!
I was told recently that I had lost my joy. It was said in a kind and gentle way and I appreciated the comment. As I thought about it in the days that followed, I realized that it was true. My joy light had dimmed.
2019 and 2020 held heaviness for me: Saying goodbye to my father and dog, Sophie. Seeing my job shift in ways that weren’t ideal for me, leading to my decision to retire and move on. Anxiety surrounding the pandemic and caring for my elderly mother. Lots of ‘stuff’ with a fair amount of grief to process. I realized that my joy was diminished and I needed to re-kindle that light.
It’s funny that once a thought gets into your head, you start noticing it show up more. I noticed the words “find joy” in random places. I received a gift box from a friend that was called “Tokens of Joy”. There was a card that said, “I choose to be happy and joyful. I feel JOYFUL.”
I also kept seeing references in various places about picking a word for the year. An intention, if you will. So, I decided to pick a word and, of course, the word was “joy”. I have been learning to zentangle (if you don’t know what it is, google it!) so I thought I might do a zentangle with the word, joy.
Yesterday morning, as I was driving to yoga, my head was spinning about something that I was annoyed about. You know how that goes … obsessively reviewing the evidence proving my case of why I was right to be annoyed. Blah blah blah. I stopped at a red light and happened to glance to my left and up the hill where I see (I kid you not) HUGE letters on a lawn that spelled out J-O-Y! I drive this way a lot and this was the first time I noticed it. I just sat there laughing. Ok, universe. I hear you. Snapped me right back to the present.
In the afternoon, I created this tile with my word for 2021. It is now hanging where I can see it every day. I hope that 2021 is filled with joy for me, for you and for the world.
With gratitude to Tangled Yogi for her amazing instructional video!
Probably the biggest misconception that people have about meditating is that in order to do it correctly, you have to stop your thoughts completely and have a blank mind. Simply stated, that is impossible. No one can stop thoughts from occurring. It’s what our brains do. There is no thinking “off” button.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to meditate, and everyone is invited to enter into “a sitting” (as we call the meditations) in a spirit of open inquiry and allowing so that we simply see whatever comes up for us in the moment. Do not try, or effort, or strain. Relax and breathe…
Anyone can learn how to meditate! Just like most skills, it requires a desire to learn and commitment to practice. Think of learning to meditate as training your “mindfulness muscle”. A great analogy is weightlifting. If you want to lift 100 pounds, you don’t start bench pressing 100 pounds. You start with smaller weights and add more weight gradually. You train your muscles so that in time you can lift 100 pounds without landing on the floor writhing in pain.
If you want to learn to meditate, start small. Listen to a short, guided meditation. There are tons of them on the internet. Take a class like my Koru Mindfulness Course. Or just try focusing on your breath for 1 minute. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. When your mind wanders, and I assure you it will, simply notice that your mind has wandered and then kindly and gently bring your attention back to your breath. Over and over and over again. In time, it will get easier and you will notice how good you feel!
I’ve had a strong connection to rainbows since my Dad passed in June 2019. Mom and I were at Dad’s side as he took his last breath. I believe that he heard Mom and I tell him how much we loved him. It was a powerful, emotional moment that I feel blessed to have witnessed. When we left to go home, as we stepped out the door a cloudburst sprinkled rain on us while the rest of the sky was blue. I told Mom that we would see a rainbow soon and that when we did, it would be Dad giving us a wink and letting us know he was fine.
Two days later the family gathered at Mom’s house. John had gone outside for something and came rushing back in to say that we all needed to go outside. As we went out onto the porch, what did we see before us? A giant rainbow stretching from one end of the sky to the other! My mother and I looked at the rainbow and then at each other in amazement. Tears flowed. We tried to explain to the others, but this was something that we couldn’t really explain. It was such a strong feeling or love and connection to Dad. Simply amazing. And in the months that followed, every time I thought about Dad and asked him for a sign, a rainbow would appear not long after.
I took the rainbow picture on my web page on Father’s Day, when I saw not one, not two, not three, but FOUR separate rainbows! Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not. And, if it makes me feel better thinking that Dad is sending me a message of love and connection, what’s wrong with that? Not a thing.
Thanks, Dad. Keep sending me rainbows, please! xoxo
This is one of the phrases I repeat to myself quite often now. The mindful concept of acceptance was such a hard one for me to wrap my head around. Why accept what isn’t good? Isn’t that just throwing up your hands and waving a white flag? That’s for wimps. But is it?
What I have come to understand is that not accepting what ‘is’ is a futile effort. If I am feeling uncomfortable about something, I can choose to resist it which will likely cause me more suffering. Or I can choose to accept that it is happening and then make conscious choices about what to do about it. I may choose to breathe through it and know that this, too, shall pass. Or I may choose to take action. Either way, acceptance doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead. It means understanding that ‘shit happens’ and denying it won’t make it go away or be untrue.
“What is is” is such an overused phrase but … it is true! Think about it. What is is. Accept that fact. The next thing to ask yourself is what you can do about it. Can you change it? If not, then anything but acceptance will cause suffering. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. Or that it feels good. It simply means you are facing reality and know that there are things out of our control. How can you soothe yourself? Try taking some long, slow breaths. Feel what you are feeling and then let it go. (I know … easier said than done but keep practicing and it does get easier.)
If you can change it, which may mean changing yourself or the situation, then go for it! We actually have more control than we give ourselves credit for. If you aren’t happy with a situation, figure out how to change it. No extra credit in life given for suffering. I heard that, “…acceptance is the frequency of miracles.” It just might be!
My father, of blessed memory, used to say that a lot. He also used to say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” but I’ll save that one for another time. I never really thought much about every day being a new beginning until I was older, and time became so much more precious to me. Every day is a new opportunity to start fresh. To review my priorities and re-focus when necessary.
When my friend asked me today about blogging, my immediate reaction was … me? blog? why? what? hmmm … maybe?
As I approach retirement from my second career, this seems like an appropriate time to try new things. Why not? Wendy 3.0!
I started my personal meditation practice about six years ago. I was dealing with some stressful situations and needed to find a way to relax that did not involve consuming a box of wine. I wasn’t sure if I would stick with it, but after a month of daily practice, I started looking forward to ‘sitting’. Quieting my mind. Focusing on my breath. If I missed a day, I felt the difference (and made sure to practice the next day)!
When I sit each morning to meditate, I am reminded that this moment is all we have. And, in this moment, I want to share what I have learned to help others find peace.