HOLIDAY “DETOX”

During this time of year I often hear folks talking about the need to “detox” their bodies from all the excess consumption of food, alcohol, and whatever else may have been added into the body. I get it. There is the felt need to move the body and somehow “release” all that stuff. I even teach post-holiday yoga classes on this theme and we do many twists and other postures that help the digestive system along. There is definitely the felt sense of getting back to neutral after we work the body. There is the illusion that we have somehow “gotten rid” of something. I guess the question to ask is what have we gotten rid of? Is it really the felt sense of fullness to rid or the extra piece of pumpkin pie, the extra glass of wine?  Or is it what we have held in mind about it all?

I call the mind the great trickster. It is full of illusions about experiences of the past or the fears of the future. So therefore, after a day/night of indulgence, even after the body has settled and come back to neutral, the mind is still attached. It is still attached to what was, what you wished you had done, and critical thought of how it should have been. When in reality, those moments are gone. It is the critical mind that will prevent you from moving on, moving forward, and making present choices that will support you in going forward.

The critical mind also blocks one of the most important components of self-growth, compassion. When we indulge, and “over consume” critical thought, we leave ourselves depleted, and blocked from seeing any ability for change and/or growth. Critical thought blocks all learning, or wisdom. We become stuck both in body and in mind. Compassion, on the other hand, is spacious. It allows for growth and movement. It involves cleansing through acceptance, facing what is, and moving forward. The Buddha spoke of compassion, Karuna as the alleviation of suffering. He also taught that compassion and wisdom go together. They are the two wings of the bird. One needs the other. Therefore, when critical thought is present, it is not enough to just replace it with a kind thought. One must recognize it, have some wisdom about it and then offer self-compassion.

When it comes to detoxing the body, maybe instead of grabbing for a special diet, cleanse, food group, exercise, etc., instead, become curious about the nature of your mind. What is being held there that needs to be detoxed? What old, patterned thoughts need to be cleared? What old, critical mind-sets are rotting your mind and body? To embody this teaching, sit down with your sitting bones planted firmly into the ground. Straighten both legs and now cross your right leg over your left. Reach your arms up above and twist to your right with your left arm hugging your right leg and your right hand planted gently behind you. Deeply inhale, straighten your spine, and twist a little more, allowing your right side rib cage to move toward the right and your eye gaze in line with your torso. Ask yourself, what do I feel in my body right now? What sensations do I notice? What am I releasing in my body right now? What do I need to let go of and restore? Repeat this with the left leg feeling the benefit of the twist in your body and how your body appreciates the assistance to its muscles, bones and organs. This time, question what do I need to let go of in mind to rebalance and restore? What is blocking my growth and the letting in of compassion and wisdom? How may I treat my body and mind with more compassion, wisdom, and ease?

Never again will we detox the body unless we are also planning to detox the mind!

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

I often hear folks say, “I just need to find what makes me happy.” Happiness, and its pursuit is a major goal in life. After all, even our Declaration of Independence states we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The word pursuit, by definition, means to go in search of. I often find that is what happens around happiness, whether it be in relationship, job, or material objects. We are in search of until we find and then guess what? We are usually in search of once again. A metaphor often used to describe the cycle of desire and pursuit is the dangling carrot in front of the donkey and the donkey following the carrot as it’s not quite within his reach, but he’s almost there. Another metaphor I think of is when I watch my cat play with the laser toy that he loves so much. This make-believe “lightning bug” he thinks he is chasing looks like it will be just in his reach so he places a big paw on it, and it magically disappears only for him to now find it on his back paw! How did it get there? How can I get it again? When will I ever get it and keep it? These are the questions we ask about happiness all the time. As often, when we feel happy we are not even aware of how we achieved that state. The interesting thing I found out about my cat and that laser toy is that it is not healthy for them to play too long with it as since they never get to make a true catch, they actually become quite frustrated and agitated. Hum, interesting as we humans are left in the same cycle of suffering when we are on our own pursuit of the magic laser beam of constant happiness. Once we “catch it” we want it again and again and again. Desire breeds more desire.

Why the constant cycle? Well, much of it has to do with the fact that we believe life should contain a great deal, if not, a constant stream of happiness. With this belief, we begin the search. When we are in the search we are focused on where we want to go or what we wish to get and often miss out on what is right in front of us now. It is the moments of joy that exist in front of us that we lose when we concentrate on the moments of joy we hope to get. If we begin to look at moments of happiness, rather than an end pursuit we may actually find that happiness lies in the smallest of places and is with us all the time if we are open to see.

The Buddhist term sukha or ease is a state of flourishing that arises from mental balance and insight into the nature of what is, or current moment to moment reality. It can be defined as a state of happiness that is enduring as it arises from a mind that is in balance or equanimity, not from an attached mind that is full of desire. To achieve sukha a transformation of consciousness is needed. This can be achieved through mindfulness and sustained training in attention. How do we begin a path to mindfulness? Well, we can begin with turning our attention and focus to the first foundation of mindfulness, through the use of our breath and body.

How do we embody joy and happiness? Spend a moment contemplating all you have done today as you read this. I mean really think back to the moment your eyes opened and you took a breath and noticed yourself “awake.” From there you went about your busy day without much thought to how you got there and the role your body played. See if right now you can take a moment to be curious about all your body has done today. I don’t mean in “working out,” but just in assisting you through your daily motions and routines. It may sound like nothing but trust me it is something. It is something to start to be mindful of what we do have. Now I know some of you reading this may say, yes, but I do not like my body as it gives me distress and/or pain. Well, that is information as well. We may not always find what is to be pleasant, however, it is still the truth and it is what is with you right now. You do not need to grasp and pursue and work so hard. Rather, you can find joy and happiness in the simple fact that, even with pain or discomfort you can still find a breath. Your breath is still breathing your body and reminding you of the moment of being alive. It is moments that we cultivate into happiness, joy, and equanimity.

May you continue to CULTIVATE joy, happiness, and equanimity.

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE

THE BODY AND HAPPINESS

Because suffering is impermanent, that is why we can transform it.
Because happiness is impermanent, that is why we have to nourish it.

-TNH, 10th June 2014

These are beautiful words written by Thich Nach Hahn. The great leader on compassion has written a great deal about the transformation of suffering and how our body can assist us along this path of discovery, compassion and the nourishment of happiness.

Thich Nach Hahn asks us to contemplate for a moment what happens when there is pain in the body, such as a splinter in your foot. Immediately, without any thought a hand reaches down to assist the foot, either in removing the splinter and/or in comforting the foot by holding it, rubbing it, etc. It happens in a split second this signal to the brain of protection and survival. Well, what would happen if we actually spent the time to focus on this kind of communication that exists in our body that is happening all the time? What if we did start to pay attention to the flow of compassion that one part of our body has toward another? The inner workings that sooth, comfort, balance, and support one another?

The truth is we have an amazing teacher of compassion that is with us each and everyday, yet most of us tend to not even notice. Or if we do we are too caught up in what I call the “surface image” of the body, i.e.: what it looks like, as opposed to what it can do and how it functions. We often lose sight of the miracle that it is and all it does day after day to keep us alive and offer us the gift of presence, the ability to love and be loved, and the ability to be alive in all feelings, whether they be ones of suffering or ones of great happiness. Now, we all know that our body is impermanent. We often know this too well, either through sickness and/or from fears of sickness, and through the loss of those we love. The body clearly reminds us of our impermanent state. This is not an easy thing to accept is it? The problem I find is that most folks get stuck here. Stuck in the concentration of the impermanent state of the body, not as a vehicle to propel themselves back into the present, but rather as a force that propels them into desperation of hanging on to the body as if it will last forever.

You know what I mean by that “lasting forever” piece. We have all gone there. Anti-aging, diets to promote longevity, vitamins, etc. I am a huge proponent of it all, however, as long as we understand that the more we are focusing on the “prevention” of the inevitable impermanence of this body, the more we may be losing sight of it’s present gifts. The gifts of the moment such as the inner compassionate workings; it’s ability to move you through exercise; it’s ability to restore and rest in sleep; the amazing ability your brain has in remembering all it needs to remember. Those are just a few.

So here is a simple little embodied exercise around appreciating the gifts and “happiness” that our body can teach us day to day. When you wake up and take a breath see if you can fell what that breath feels like in your body. Can you actually picture the air bathing each organ? Can you feel what happens in your chest cavity, your rib cage? How about the difference a big breath makes in your energy level?

Now as you step out of bed, can you attend to the coordination on movement between your legs and feet? If your body is compromised in this way, can you attend to how it has learned to work with the compromise? Have your arms learned to do more because perhaps your legs are not working the way they used to? Attend to what you normally do not attend to and see what happens as far as suffering around this body or the transcendence of suffering into happiness, contentment, compassion, and surprise. How can you continue to nourish happiness in your body today?

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE

RESPONDING AND REACTING

This was the theme of my yoga class the week of Thanksgiving. After spending a week in my psychotherapy office hearing about the trepidation folks have about the holiday, as they reunite with family and friends, wondering who will get along with whom? Who may criticize whom? And, what will so and so say? These moments can sometimes bring along joy, but also bring along moments of triggering emotions and thoughts. It is not just about a holiday as we can get caught up in reactivity on any day. It takes a great deal of present moment attention to learn how to respond to someone rather than react.

When we react, we are often speaking from the mind moments of the past or the projected ones of the future. We are not in a grounded place, as it is only when we are present focused that we are feeling truly grounded. Therefore, emotions get the best of us, we may feel out of control, or notice our mood shifting to feeling judgmental and intolerant. All of this fuels the cycle of reactivity, rather than responsibility. Taking responsibility of one’s emotions and thoughts leads to responsible words, ones that come from “responding” in the moment from a grounded place.

So, how doe we get grounded? How do we attend to the present moment and take notice of what we’re thinking, feeling so that we can use this information to respond?  Our body is a great place to start as it often holds the answer. Your body will give you the first signal that you are starting to feel stressed and uncomfortable. I am sure you know what I mean. Tightness begins to take hold in your muscles, your hands may become clenched, maybe sweaty, and you can feel a quickening of your heartbeat, a quickening of your breath. A client of mine reported she could feel her face flushing when we was getting “worked up.” These are all signals that your body is getting ready to react. They are all normal, natural physiological responses when our system somehow feels under “attack.” The problem is, these visceral or body responses are delivered from a part of our brain, the reptilian brain that is responsible for reacting in the moment, without any awareness of thought. It is our job to attend to the signals and call conscious thought into the process to become aware of what is happening.

Now, we all know a Thanksgiving dinner, in and of itself, is not the problem. Instead the problem often lies in what we are holding in mind before we get there and old stories, and old relationships filled with old stories. The anticipation of the event often hypes up our nervous system before we even get there or the first guest arrives. Thoughts such as, “I hope Bob doesn’t talk about his new car again,” “I hope no one questions me once again why I’m not married yet?” And the infamous feared discussions on religion and/or politics. Our nervous system and body are already a bit charged prior to even getting started. From this charged place it is easy to react, rather than respond. It is from this point that the mind will follow. All of a sudden you may notice yourself drifting away as Aunt Sally goes on and on. You may find that there are many thoughts running through your mind. What you are noticing is the quickening of the mind. It is from this point that the desire to react in words as fast as possible starts to arise to defend, protect, or make a point. Once we fall into the mind-activated place, it can be tricky to slow it down just through thought alone. This is where we can turn to the body for assistance.

What does it look like to “call the body for assistance?” Well, it is actually quite simple.

Prior to a gathering, take a breath and notice areas of tightening and holding in your body by doing a simple body scan head to toe. While standing take your arms overhead and take a big inhalation, as you exhale through your mouth swing your arms down along your side to let it go. Do that a couple of times and then rescan your body for tense places. Notice how that automatically shifts the experience. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Release breaths like this, is exactly that, a RELEASE! It is a release to your tightly wound nervous system, and sends an automatic signal to your brain to slow it all down. When you are in a hyped up state physically, you can sure bet that you are more likely to react, rather than respond from a grounded place.

What is the grounded place and what does that feel like? A grounded place is one in which the nervous system is calm, where you can notice your breath is at a steady, neutral place, and you are aware of any holding, and/or tension in your body. From here, you are able to take a pause, notice what’s happening in your body first, regroup by taking a breath, ground through your body by feeling your hands, your seat, and your spine. Take another pause, and then decide if what you are about to say will be helpful and necessary. It is only when the body is calm that you can effectively respond, rather than react from old, habitual places in the mind.

So, see what it is like to attend to your body and breath first, then pay attention to the thoughts that follow and the desire to speak. Ask the question, is what I am about to say helpful and necessary to both the other and myself? If so, speak from a responsive heart. If not, take a breath, and recognize that what was about to be said was an old reactive place that no longer serves you or anyone else. Enjoy the felt sense of “grounded.”

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE.