Intention and Compassion

I finally was able to do the workshop I had planned for the New Year. I was able to do it one week later after recovering from being ill. The practice of compassion is needed more than ever now. Everywhere we turn there is another story of division, hatred, greed, and harm. I had a discussion about this with my teenage kids who are all on the brink of losing faith in humanity as they learn and read about the state of the world today. It is so difficult to restore faith and trust in the teenage mind, which naturally divides into good and bad, to begin with, let alone after they learn of another terrorist killing somewhere.

The bottom line is I told them for as many people that hold hatred in mind there are triple that amount, if not more, that hold compassion and love in mind and deeply wish and want that toward themselves and others and in the world. It does come down to what we want to see, what we want life to look like and be like. That is where intention comes in. The Buddha taught that before action comes thought, before thought comes intention. What do you want to manifest? If it is peace and love than we are responsible for watching the thoughts we hold. Do they follow this path? Are you manifesting peace and love and self-compassion for yourself? If we live in self-harming thoughts and/or behaviors you can bet that eventually those thoughts and behaviors will find their way out and about into the world. Eventually they will influence how we act.

Compassion is quite the opposite energy. It is the holder, the mover, and the action-former. When we hold compassion toward ourselves, we allow for our human nature, our foibles, and our fears. Because we allow for them, we are able to face them, look them straight on and intend for something better. Intention and compassion go together. I call self-compassion the “re-set” button. It is the thing that allows you a “do-over.” You have a human right to fall. You also have the right to get back up and start over, and let go of what once was.

This week the embodied practice is Metta. Metta means love in Pali. It is a meditation that engages you in the repetitive words of care, compassion and love. It holds the intention that with continued practice, and with the intention of kindness that overtime that is exactly what will grow. Metta should be practiced daily. The full practice takes approximately 20 minutes. If you can only do one portion than do that. As always, some is better than none.

Words of Metta:

(repeat each set of phrases 5x for each category)

Begin with offering the words to yourself:

May I be safe, protected

May I be healthy and strong

May I find may way through life’s suffering

May I live in peace and ease

Call to mind a teacher, mentor, someone who has influenced you. Repeat the words holding him/her in mind.

May you…

Call to mind someone you love. This can be animal friends as well as people. Repeat the words holding him/her/them in mind.

May you…

Call to mind someone neutral, someone you do not know very well. Repeat the words holding this person in mind.

May you…

Call to mind someone who annoys, angers, triggers you. Even with the most difficult of emotions see if you can offer out the words of kindness to him/her.

May you also…

The last category is all living beings. Include in this our environment, our earth, our universe. All that is seen and unseen knowing that we are all connected.

May all beings…

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE

The Space Between The Thoughts

When a thought ends, and before the next one begins, there is an open opportunity for exploration. Have you ever wondered or paid attention to the fine-tuning of the mind? It is not an easy thing to do and it is why Buddha encouraged the deep focus on the mind to come after there has been deep attention and focus on the first two Foundations of Mindfulness, which are body/breath and emotions. Mind and mind moments/impermanence follow as the third and fourth foundations. So, how can we begin to train ourselves in this mindful attention while knowing that it will be a challenge to delve directly into the nature of the mind?

We can begin with the first foundation breath and body/bodily sensations. When I teach a yoga class and do my own asana (posture) practice, I encourage the focus on paying attention to when we reach a sensation in the body that “wakes us up.” Often in yoga we call this the “edge” of a sensation. It is the point of the sensation leading to the questions can I be with this? Can I sustain this? Should I sustain this? Should I let go and find another way? The point being, it is the edge that makes you question. This is a good thing. It may not always be a comfortable space in your body but the arising of sensation, particularly the edge of sensation leads us to question. It moves us into self-inquiry, and self-inquiry is what is needed to go further to the deeper attention to mind and the development of mindfulness.

To explore the edge of sensation I often like to focus on an area of the body that I know is one that for most of us will be a challenge. Areas that are usually tight to begin with are the ones that offer the most opportunity in fine-tuning where to go and how to move and how to stay and/or release. The hamstrings are one of those areas. I encourage you to come to lying on your back and have with you either a yoga strap or a few ties tied together. Something that is long enough for you to reach your foot when your leg is outstretched. Lying down lift your right leg and place the strap under the sole of your foot. Begin to bend your knee and straighten. Keep doing this a few times over and over. Then leave the leg straight, inhale and walk your hands up the strap as you reach your forehead toward your leg. As you exhale come on back down. Keep this movement going between the inhale lifting up and the exhale lowering. At the same time begin to fine-tune your inquiry. Notice when you reach the edge of a sensation. At what point do you first feel it? Can you sustain the hold or is it beyond the edge for you? Do you need to modify it, let it go? Keep the inquiry going. What can you notice, what can you learn?

You can practice this line of questioning with all areas of your body (especially on the mat) as a way to awaken into mindfulness and keeping your attention to the moment. If we do not take sensation to the edge we have the tendency to drift away and get lost in thought. Over the edge, and we are in fear and protective mode, which blocks awareness and inquiry. This embodied practice of the First Foundation sets the stage for deeper awareness. After we gain awareness through the body we can move on to awareness of emotions and understanding when we are at the edge of an emotion. It then sets the stage for opening the door to questions such as, what is the space between the thoughts? You do not have to answer this one now. Just keep coming back to your body for the practice of the first step and trust that with practice the awareness will follow.

May All Beings Live In Peace and Ease

Responsibility and Self-Compassion

January 2, 2015 and I had scheduled a 2 hour workshop at the yoga studio on Intention and Compassion for the New Year. I was so excited to lead this workshop, as it is probably two of my favorite topics. After all, I am always discussing the importance of intention setting and compassion is one of my favorite practices to teach. The day before, New Years day, I was feeling very ill. The current flu-like thing going around hit my body hard and I knew I was not going to be physically able to teach the following day. I was very attuned to what my body was telling me yet my mind was preoccupied and focused on the many students I would let down and disappoint by not showing up. Therefore, instead of cancelling the night before I waited till the last possible minute on the 2nd to call for a replacement. I knew I did the right thing as I spent most of the day in bed recuperating. My body was certainly appreciative yet my mind was still preoccupied with feeling responsible for disappointing others. Wow. I sat in awe watching my mental process unfold between guilt, disappointment, feeling badly, and feeling responsible.

It immediately struck me as the revisiting of an old familiar theme this feeling responsible. It is one that I can clearly feel in my own body, the heaviness in my shoulders, the tension that builds in my neck. I knew staying home was the most compassionate thing for me to do for myself. I do try, as much as I can, to practice what I preach. Therefore, I knew I also needed to hold this lesson compassionately as well. I saw it as an opportunity to relearn once again.

What leads us to feel so responsible for others? A perfectly competent teacher took over for me that day. I am sure the 30 students that showed had a fine experience. Granted they may not have had what they thought they were going to have but nonetheless I am sure they had a fine experience. I realized a great deal of feeling so responsible comes from the ego. There is an ego grasp that says somehow somewhere he, she, they will not be o.k. without me. The idea that others will not be o.k. without us, whether we are aware of it or not, festers in our mind and body and grows. It grows large and often lingers in the body as the many aches and pains that we feel. We often carry the weight of others but it is time to ask for what reason? Is it that if we let this idea of responsibility go that we may also have to let go a little bit of ego at the same time? I have noticed that letting go of the responsibility of others, while very freeing on the one hand, also creates a little bit of sadness on the other. My relearning lies in this area. Can I step away and be with the sadness that I may not be needed as much as I think I am? It is not the easiest of questions/awareness’s to be with. Yet, if we do not ask the question we tend to act from feeling responsible toward others rather than from the truth. Had I decided to push my body that day and show up, it would have been exactly that. Just showing up in body but not in heart. Instead, when we attend to the truth, we attend to the heart, and from there we show the compassion for both others and ourselves.

I encourage you the next time you feel that “heaviness of the world” upon your shoulders to ask the questions, who in fact put it there and what would happen if I was to let it go? Maybe you can even allow yourself to let your shoulders fall, take a nap, and let someone else take over for a while.

Grasping

I am in the middle of my doctoral research right now and started to notice how badly I am looking forward to finishing this work. After all, I have been at it for years now, have given up a great deal to go for this degree, and am ready to take some downtime. However, I have just begun to sit with mounds and mounds of data to analyze so the truth is I am nowhere near done. I know this yet my mind was unwilling to let go of the grasp into the future and where I wish to go.

The first place I recognized this grasp was in my body. All week long I noticed the tension build in my back and neck. I could feel the discomfort and noticed it was there yet I struggled to let it go. It led me to contemplate on grasping and what this means in mind and body. It is one thing to plan for the future and to hope for something. It is another to cling onto and grasp as if life or who you are depended on it. Grasping is a quality of the ego that leads us away from the present moment into the future. It consumes a great deal of mental, emotional and physical energy as we concentrate on where we wish to be, rather than where we currently are, right here, right now. The Buddhist view of grasping is attachment. We often attach when we are in desire of something, someone. Desire moves us away from the moment and consumes the mind in search of, rather than in awareness. I often have my yoga students recognize how this shows up on the mat in their practice. For those of you who have ever done yoga you will know what I mean. Many students come into the class hoping and wanting and wishing for a certain experience, whether it is a good release, a rest, a workout. Whatever it may be. Then come the ideas of wanting and wishing for the teacher to instruct a certain favorite pose. All this mental energy consumed by desire, by the grasping of what we hope for rather than the ability to step back and see and feel what unfolds, what is. As often we learn the most from what we are resisting, not what comes easily.

This is such a challenging concept to be with, and to embody. To release my mental grasp I literally went “upside down.” I decided that the only way I could release the grasp of grasping was to turn it all around and flip it all. So, I found myself in headstand. I concentrated on my breath, my core strength and then slowly released. As I sat in the release the rest of my body released. All the tension began to fade as I had a good cry and let go of the expectations and desires. A headstand may not be necessary for you however, I do challenge you to be in your body in a way that you are not used to as a way to embody the idea of grasping and what you may be clinging to. Watch how your mind will fight and initially resist a new way. Meet the resistance rather than fight it. Embrace it with compassion and remind yourself that if you wish to reach a future intention that you must come back to now, as the future is dependent on now, not what will be.

May all beings live in peace and ease.

The Marriage of Fear and Worry

Fear is a primal emotion. It is an emotion that when present, often leads to us lose our grounding. It can propel us back into old habits of relating, old destructive thought patterns, and behaviors. Most of all, even when the felt sense subsides, our body is left with a host of “leftovers” to deal with.

When fear arises the sympathetic nervous system fires up, rightfully so, preparing the body for either a flight, fight or freeze response. It is a primal emotion due to this very visceral response. The body has no way of knowing where the fear is stemming from. In other words, does it really need to tighten and prepare for attack as if your life depends on it? The body does not differentiate. It will release the same hormones, and tighten in the same areas as IF it were under attack. Part of the reason this is so, is due to the area of the brain where this visceral response takes place. The back of the brain, or our “reptilian brain” is not about rational responses. It is about the most primal of responses. Therefore, rational processing is not taking place. As a matter of fact, when fear is heightened, our ability to process and rationalize slows down, yet our heart rate, and rate of respiration increase. With this increase comes along muscular tightening.

I would like you for a moment to consider how often you are in fear. I know the quick response may be, oh not often, just when it is a major event. But now consider the less obvious, such as, how often are you preoccupied in worry? Worry is a habitual response pattern in the mind born from fear. Is it the same primal fear we may feel when under attack? Not necessarily, however, worry is less obvious. Meaning it is insidious in the way it builds, preoccupies, and lands in the body over time. It lingers and erodes. All experiences land in our body. The term issue in the tissues is for a good reason. Worry, over time, builds up in our tissues, especially in areas of the lower half of the body, our psoas muscle, our hips, our low back. These are the primal areas of the body, the areas that are most vulnerable, most in need of protection, when we feel afraid. As we engage in a worried mind day after day we can be assured that these areas are holding, tightening, and reacting.

Releasing the worried mind takes much practice. Worry is about the past and the future. It is never about the exact moment. Here is where we can call in the body for assistance in breaking the “worry chain.” Take a breath, close your eyes, and notice all the worries moving through your mind, a stream of worry, one after the next. Now, with your next breath scan your body and feel where each worry “lives” in your body. This may be very evident as attention is usually drawn to the most obvious places of tension first. Notice these areas and now take a big breath in through your nose and let it release through your mouth. Now rescan and this time search for the areas not under tension. Search for the areas that feel neutral. This may take some effort, as the conditioned mind will want to go right back to what bothers us, or what feels really good, rather than what feels neutral. Keep this scan happening over and over until you keep landing in the neutral zone. This embodied experiential is a great little exercise in retraining a worried mind from the past and the future to right here, right now concentrated on the non-attached place of neutrality, offering the mind a break from the habitual worry chain of events and retraining it into the present moment.

May all beings live in peace and ease.